Eoin Colfer talks about his first books

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Eoin Colfer
Location:  N/A

Benny & Omar was my first book. I'd been writing stories for years before that, but it took a trip to Africa to give me really exciting subject matter. Within a month of arriving in Tunisia, a dozen possible storylines were bouncing around in my head. But the thing that hit me hardest was the difference in the quality of life for Europeans and Tunisians. Things that we take for granted, like running water and electricity, are often luxuries in Africa. I decided that the best way to bring this point home was to pair a Tunisian boy with an Irish chap and see what happened. As you may know, quite a lot happened, not all of it good. But at least the smartalec Benny got a taste of real life.

Benny was so popular that I decided to bring him back for another installment. I realised that you don't have to go to a foreign country to have adventures. Irish youngsters are perfectly capably of getting up to mischief on their own turf. So Benny lands home and is sent to the country on holidays, to a small fishing village in the southeast. Duncade is based on the village of Slade in County Wexford and on the promontory of Hook. A lot of the struggles - boy/girl, townie/culchie - are updated versions of my own experiences as a boy.

While Benny was exorcising the teenage Colfer, there was a younger version who wanted to have his say. I created Ed Cooper to give a voice to these memories. I hope that with Going Potty, Ed's Funny Feet and Ed's Bed children can both have a laugh and maybe come to grips with a few childhood difficulties.

Researching Call of the Whales

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Siobhán Parkinson
Location:  N/A

When I go around schools, one of the things children often ask is if I have ever written an animal book and I usually say no, that I don't really find animals all that terribly fascinating, and I can almost hear the intake of breath and all those charming kids who adore ponies or puppies recoil in horror from this awful woman who prefers people to beasties. But although I did enjoy horsey stories when I was a child-reader myself (anyone who didn't love Black Beauty is quite possibly the devil in shoe leather), it's true that I find people more interesting these days.

But then, about a year ago, I was editing a book on the mammals of Ireland for Town House, a publishing company I used to work for. There was a massive chapter on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in that book, as we have a huge number of species of whale in Irish waters. They are mostly just passing through, but still, there are lots of them. And as I was reading about all 47 or something species of 'Irish' whales, I started to think about how interesting whales are. It occurred to me that a lot of kids are interested in whales in a save-the-whale, Greenpeacey sort of way, and I wondered if many of them really knew very much about whales and how they live, and so I began to get the glimmering of an idea of writing a whaley book.

At first, I thought what I would like to do was to focus on the idea of how whales live in 'families', a bit like people in some ways, and on how intelligent they seem to be (though that is actually disputed by some scientists). But I couldn't see how I could do that. I didn’t want to write a book actually from the point of view of the whales, as I thought that wouldn’t really wash with older readers. There is something a bit twee, isn't there, about having animals speak in the first person. Black Beauty got away with it, but then that has been done, and you can't do it again, unless you can do it at least as well, and I certainly don't know whales as well as Anna Sewell knew horses. So I didn't entertain the idea of writing from the point of view of the whales.

But then, how else could I write about whales? I wondered. I'll have to write about people who live or work with whales, I thought, and so I began to think about who these people are. Now, you can find whales practically anywhere on the planet where there is sea, but somehow the idea of the Eskimo or Inuit people sprang first to my mind, and I decided I would try to see if I could write a book about whales and Inuit. Also, there was the added bonus that these people live in such a very beautiful and extraordinary environment, so I started to try to find out about them and their relationship to whales.

When I got down to the research, most of which I did on the Internet (though I had in fact been to the outer part of the Arctic Circle myself on summer holidays in Scandinavia a very long time ago), I found that I became more and more fascinated by the Arctic itself and that the landscape began to be at least as important as the whales.

I thought at first I would try to create a sort of dreamscape Arctic, rather than setting the story in any particular Arctic location, because of course the thing about the Arctic is that lots of countries are part of it, the tips of lots of northerly countries, that is. But everything I read about any one Arctic country seemed to be local to that country and I couldn't really get much of a handle on 'the Arctic' in a general sort of way. So in the end, I decided I would set the book in specific countries, and that I would choose three separate locations, because I wanted to cover different aspects of Arctic life in different places.

That meant that I had to have the book take place over three episodes. This is quite a tricky thing, structurally, because it is hard to sustain a plot if you are moving over time and space, so what I decided to do was to have a very loose plot structure (some people have rather unkindly called this my 'plotless novel') and to have the landscape and the main character's relationship to the landscape and the whales as the main focus of interest in the novel.

But that is not enough to hold a book together so that it makes sense, so I decided that, since the action was going to take place over three separate summers, I would also make this a novel about growing up. So at the beginning of the book, the main character, Tadhg, or Tyke as he is nicknamed in the Arctic, is quite young, maybe about ten or so; then in the middle episode, which is the one that is most focused on whales, he is a little older, maybe about twelve; and by the end of the book, some time has passed since his last trip to the Arctic, so by now he is fifteen, and beginning to leave his childhood, which includes trips to the Arctic and being obsessed by whales, behind him.

At the beginning of the book, Tyke has a rather fairy-tale attitude to the Arctic, but by the end he has come to accept that this is a rough, tough place and the people who live in such harsh conditions have to have a tough streak in them. He learns that his western attitudes to whales and whaling are not appropriate in that environment, and that the people who are native to those areas have their own long tradition of relationship with whales. His friend Henry, an Eskimo boy whom he meets in Alaska, helps him to understand that the native attitude to whales is not cruel but deeply empathetic, even though it may look cruel to outsiders with other attitudes.

By the way, while I was working on the book, I came up against the thorny issue of the words Eskimo and Inuit. Some Arctic people are very angry about the use of the word Eskimo by outsiders to describe them and they prefer their own word Inuit, and so of course I have used that word in most cases. But it's quite complicated, because not all the people westerners think of as Eskimos are in fact Inuit -- different groups have different words to describe themselves. And then to my surprise I discovered that in Alaska, the term Eskimo is actually preferred, because it doesn't assume that all the Arctic people are in fact Inuit when many of them aren't, so it got very confusing. In the end, I used Eskimo when I was talking specifically about Alaska, and Inuit when talking about other groups of peoples, especially in Canada, but I did also occasionally use Inupiat and Kalaallit as well. 'Arctic people' seems like a useful catch-all, but it's not accurate either, because there are other peoples in parts of the Arctic who are not related to the Inuit, but belong to different ethnic groups altogether, so it was tricky to sort it all out. But I think it is important to try to find ways of describing people that they are happy with. Nobody wants to be stuck with a label that somebody else invented, especially if that somebody else has been an invader or an oppressor.

I made my main character an Irish child, because I felt that I didn't know enough about the Arctic peoples to create an Inuit or Eskimo character, and also I thought it would be interesting to look at a region like the Arctic from an outsider's point of view. Very often, an outsider's point of view is a more interesting approach to anywhere, because the outsider is likely to reflect on the place, whereas the person who is born in a place just takes it for granted. That's fine if your setting is just a backdrop, but I wanted to make the Arctic part of the fabric of the novel rather than just a backdrop, so it was handy to have an outsider through whom to look at the Arctic.
Also, having my main character an Irish boy who visits the Arctic from time to time and each time at a different place gave me the opportunity to set the novel in different parts of the Arctic over different episodes of the story. If I had chosen an Inuit or Eskimo child as my hero, I would probably have had to limit the story to one place.

Writing Sisters ... no way!

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Siobhán Parkinson
Location:  N/A

People often ask where I got the idea for Sisters, and the answer is I didn't really get the idea at all, if you see what I mean. That is to say, of course I got it, but not all at once, and that is true of all my writing. I begin with only part of an idea, and gradually it grows as I write and I end up with something much bigger than whatever my original idea was.

In the case of Sisters, I set out to write a modern version of a famous fairy tale. I won't say which one, but that should be enough of a clue ... all the other clues are in the book, if you take the trouble to look for them. I didn't think at all about what point of view I would use. It just seemed really obvious that the point of view of Cindy was the right one, so I started writing the story in the first person.

The first two pages of Cindy's voice just came tumbling out, all by themselves, and I was very excited, because it seemed to me that I had created this character all of a piece, just in the first two pages. I knew exactly what she was like just from those couple of hundred words. In my excitement, I showed the first two pages to my editor at O'Brien Press, and she said, Eugh! What a horrible character! She's appalling!

Yes, I said, isn't she just? I was still excited.

But the editor would have none of it. She suggested I go away and rewrite the first few pages in the third person ('she', rather than 'I', so that you as author are telling a story about somebody else, instead of pretending to be the person and speaking in their voice). Disconsolately, I picked up my two pages and went home.

I sat at my computer for about ten minutes and thought about how I might write the story in the third person, and then I gritted my teeth and said, To hell with that! and I kept on going in the first person. My instinct must have been right, because when I sent the whole of Cindy's diary to the editor, she very gallantly admitted that the first person was working after all (if there is one thing I like better than a person who is wrong when I am right, it is a person who admits it), and the publishers said they would be delighted to publish it.

But I was concerned that it was a bit short, and also I was a bit concerned that the story was told totally from the point of view of this nasty character I had created. I knew that what Cindy said was only her opinion on things, but I worried a bit that the reader mightn't pick that up and might see the world in the same rather jaundiced way that Cindy did. And it was at that point that I came up with the idea that the way to balance out Cindy's nastiness was to tell the same story, or roughly the same story, all over again from the point of view of one of the stepsisters. So really it was after the book was finished, as I thought at first, that I had the main idea for the book, if you see what I mean.

Then I had a lot of fun writing Ashling's diary, because of course the whole sequence of the story was already in place, and the fact that Cindy's part of the story was written in diary entries, with dates, made it very easy to plot Ashling's story against that pattern. So I would look at Cindy's diary entry for a particular day, and I would wonder what Ashling might have been doing on that day, and so Ashling's story grew very easily out of Cindy's.

I also came up with the idea of putting the two stories back to back and upside down, so that the reader could have complete freedom to decide which way they would like to read it ... first Cindy's diary and then Ashling's, or vice versa, or bits from one and bits from the other all the way through.

This book won the Bisto Book of the Year award, which was nice for me, but I have to say it was the book that came most easily to me. I wrote it very quickly and I hardly had to think about what I was doing. Sometimes I think it's odd that the book I found easiest to write and spent the least amount of trouble on was my most successful. But that's life.

Peter Pan Nearly Grounded

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Aubrey Flegg
Location:  N/A

A hand closed on my arm with a grip of steel.

'Is that your bag, sir?' The security officer pointed to my briefcase as it rolled innocently from the mouth of the X-ray machine at Dublin Airport. That was in September. Michael O'Brien of The O'Brien Press, my wife Jennifer and I were on our way to the Gothenburg Book Fair. Katie's War, my first book (Katie's Krig in Swedish), had just won iBBY Sweden's new 'Peter Pan Prize'. Just now, however, I had other things on my mind. I leaned forward. Yes, the bag was mine. I looked up. There on the screen above that infernal machine was a portrait of my briefcase. It was like one of those aboriginal paintings that shows not only the animal, but also its insides; my bag's innermost parts were exposed. And there, in the blue sheen, floated an unmistakeable dagger.

I turned to my companions for support. Michael O'Brien looked as I suppose any publisher would look, watching his author being arrested on the first day of their trip. Jennifer, on the other hand, had her eyes rolled to heaven, the 'thinks' bubble above her head saying, 'Dear God, what has the eejit done now!' By this time the security officer's grip had reduced the bone in my arm to a handful of matchstick. He stepped back, as if preparing himself for a sudden attack, while I fumbled with catches and gabbled. I tried to explain that the dagger was just a paper knife that I used as a prop when talking to people about my book.

'You see, Officer,' (always call someone who is arresting you 'Officer'), 'the handle is just a rifle cartridge from First World War days. Look, there's the bullet!' The atmosphere, already icy, plunged towards absolute zero. Desperately I flexed the copper blade. 'You see, Officer, it's really only a paper knife.'
I shouldn't tell you how I got through security and onto the plane -- with the paper knife -- in case a real bandit learns my trick, but what you do is to coil up the blade of your dagger until it's no longer a threat to anyone, not even an envelope.


Gothenburg is a former shipbuilding city on the west coast of Sweden. If you didn't realise that Sweden has a west coast, look at a map. There is Gothenburg, 'twixt Sweden's nether tip and Norway's capital, Oslo. It is here that the Gothenburg International Book Fair is held. In two vast halls, over 800 exhibitors set up their stalls. In the mornings people wear suits, are brisk, and carry briefcases. Stands are examined and deals are done. In the afternoons the aisles fill as 14,000 book-hungry Swedes drift, absorbed, between the stands. Antiquarian books, Taiwanese translations and recently liberated books from Latvia and Estonia: here you will find all sorts of books. Trembling authors hold microphones and read to polite circles of supporters. Wizards hover -- we must be near the Harry Potter stand -- and one startled Irish author picks up a book-club catalogue and finds Katies Krig as the centre spread.

There are lecture theatres, and nearly 300 authors and speakers. It was here, dragged reluctantly from wall-to-wall hospitality, that I was interviewed by fair-haired Ulla (all Swedes speak perfect English). She explained how the Peter Pan Prize is awarded for a children's book, translated into Swedish, describing another country's way of life. Katie's War is about a young girl whose father returns shell-shocked from the First World War. Katie nurses him back to normality, but his hatred of war still threatens to tip him back into madness. When civil war breaks out, she is pulled three ways: to side with Kieran, a nice Free State soldier she has met, or with her Republican brother Seamus, or to side with Father and his hatred of war.

Ulla was interested in the history, as she felt it helped Swedish people to understand the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, but she was also interested in the countryside where the story happens. I explained how, when I was working as a geologist in the slate quarries near Killaloe, I realised what a good place for an adventure it would be -- full of dark holes and piles of toppling slates. She asked me how I knew what Katie's home would have been like back in 1922. So I told her how I had grown up during the war on a farm in Sligo, where there was no electricity and no fuel available for tractors. Horses did all the work and I went to bed by candlelight. Ulla wanted to know about the goats that used to warn the quarry men if the loose slates were about to fall on top of them. I told her how I used lots of real incidents to make parts of the story.

The prize-giving followed, and I now have a lovely certificate on my wall, with an original drawing on it by Eva Eriksson, one of Sweden's famous illustrators.


The Book Fair was over but I wanted to visit Oslo in Norway, to thank people who had helped me with my second book, The Cinnamon Tree; we decided to go there by train.

Two years ago I got so angry about people using landmines -- buried bombs that explode when people step on them -- that I wanted to write a book about them. I tried and I tried but couldn't get started. In the end I said, 'I'll just have to go and see for myself!' I flew out to Angola, which is on the west coast of Africa. Here, Norwegian People's Aid took me to a big hospital where landmine victims go to be fitted with artificial legs. I noticed that most of them were women. The Norwegians showed me how they hunt for landmines, using tank-like machines, and even dogs. Mostly, however, they work on hands and knees, listening for the shriek that comes from their mine detectors when there is a mine below.

It was here that my ideas for The Cinnamon Tree began to grow. I was shown a landmine still stuck in the ground beneath a tree. When the mine was made safe, the deminer broke off a piece of bark from the tree and gave it to me to smell: cinnamon! It was then that I started to hear, in my mind, the voice of Yola's little cousin Gabbin calling her: 'Yola! Yola!' and the story began.

The idea of a story about a landmine victim may seem terrible, but Yola is no victim. In the end, as I had her waiting to start on her final mission, to save her little cousin, I felt that it was she who was writing the story, not me. I hope you like her.


Having thanked Norwegian People's Aid, it was time for sightseeing. My demining friend, Per, had a small present for me; I put it away without a thought. We saw the Kon-Tiki, the log raft on which Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific, and Viking ships like those that raided Ireland and brought the Norsemen who built our first cities, including Dublin and Wexford. Then we flew home.

Exhausted we waited and waited for my suitcase to appear on the carousel at Dublin airport.
'At least you didn't get caught with that dagger of yours this time,' Jennifer observed.
'No!' Was there something in my voice? She was staring at me, with resigned tolerance.
'Go on! Tell me. What have you got in your suitcase this time?'
'A landmine.' I whispered. 'Per gave it me.'
Jennifer sank on to our empty trolley. 'I'm waiting,' she said.
'For the case?'
'No,' she said with a sigh. 'For the controlled explosion.'

Gerard Whelan answers questions from young readers

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Gerard Whelan
Location:  N/A

Two Wexford authors, Gerard Whelan and Eoin Colfer, were asked questions by senior pupils (aged 8 --12) in St Edan's Primary School, Ferns, County Wexford. There are ten questions asked of each author and the first six are the same for both. It is interesting to compare their answers to these questions.

Here Gerard Whelan tells us about growing up in Wexford, about his four bestselling novels - and about his hairstyle!

Q1 Have you ever started writing a book and ended up throwing it in the bin?
For one moment I thought you'd written 'throwing up in the bin', to which I was going to answer 'Not quite'. But as regards throwing in the bin, then yes, I have. When you use a computer, though, you can sorta cheat on this: you get the great feeling of tearing up an annoying story and binning it, but at the back of your mind you know there's still a copy on your hard disk just in case you get that brilliant idea (40-odd years old and I'm still waiting for even one brilliant idea! I'll never learn!). Every 18 months or so I delete stuff from the hard disk ... it feels great! I've deleted dozens of stories and bits-of-books from my hard disk over the years -- but more keep coming! Just as a matter of interest, I once tried to write a book backwards, and everything went fine until near the beginning, when I simply couldn't think of how to start it, so in the end (if that's the appropriate word) I had to throw it out.

Q2 Did you always want to write? Did someone encourage your choice?
I don't know that I ever wanted to write ... I don't recall ever really thinking about it. I just always wrote. It was just a fact about me like any other ... I had black hair, I had green eyes, I was stupid and boring, and I wrote. There were other facts about me, obviously, but those were the most obvious ones.

As regards encouragement, I do recall one English teacher in secondary school who used to like my writing, and that did encourage me -- finding an appreciative audience always encourages you. But that was years after I started writing. I was always just fascinated by the notion that you could make words do things. Better still, if you wrote them in a different way, you could make them do other things. Best of all it was free, and it was yours -- nobody could tell you the right or the wrong way to do it. During my time in school imagination was not, generally speaking, regarded as a particularly Good Thing in kids (or adults, for that matter). It was a bit of a dirty word in Irish society then. I did my school work, and then I went and did what I thought of as writing, and I certainly didn't bring that to school! Things have changed a lot in Irish education, believe me.

Q3 When you meet someone for the first time, do you see if they would make a good character for a book?
No. Not ever. Never. Though I always do it with things, and especially with facts. For a writer (or anyone else for that matter), there is absolutely no such thing as useless information. As regards people, the world is stuffed full of people that nobody would believe for a moment if you put them in a book. Real people are always much more weird and interesting than fictional characters. It's just a matter of how you look at them. I know sometimes certain people can seem boring, and people in books much more interesting; but people in books are just made up, with all the boring bits left out. I met a kid once who told me that Jimmy Conway's parents [from The Guns of Easter] were much nicer than her own, but I pointed out to her that Jimmy Conway's parents could never give her (a) a hug or (b) pocket money ... which made her think (I hope).

Q4 Did growing up in Wexford influence the choice of characters and the settings of your novels?
Growing up in Wexford influenced me a lot, and everything anyone writes depends on who they are as individuals, so I suppose so. I was raised in a family where nobody ever tried to influence my reading (yes, lots of 'good' books, but also lots of comics and weird books -- and we won't even mention TV and horror movies ... you must know how adults can get strange on that subject!) and I do think that this is terribly important ... my mind and imagination were given room and scope, and I developed a taste of my own, and nobody tried to steer me in any special way. I think that is very, very important. Plus, I was brought up among people with a good sense of humour who liked telling stories, or just plain downright lies, which is a very good background for a writer ... or, in my humble opinion, for anyone else. Growing up in Wexford -- i.e. outside of Dublin -- also helped me to develop an awareness of the absolutely incredible richness of language that there is in Ireland, which is a subject that has never ceased to fascinate me. By 'language' I am referring now to English, of course, and Wexford is particularly rich in this, although many things (mainly TV and 'respectability') have impoverished English all over Ireland in my own lifetime. I grew up speaking words and phrases that were like a living historical museum, and it still thrills me sometimes to think how far back some common phrases go, and of the sheer amount of history that is embodied in them. Whenever anyone uses the simple word 'unwell' (as in: 'I feel unwell') they are using a word that Ireland gave (with many others) to the English language; when you say you'll do something 'by hook or by crook' you are (it seems) both quoting Oliver Cromwell and making a specific reference to the geography of the South Wexford coast ... and the list goes on and on. In some ways language embodies history as much as -- even more than -- any book does, and I grew up in Wexford at a time when the English spoken was probably richer than at any time since, among people who took genuine pleasure in words. I am always terribly grateful for this, and nothing makes me more annoyed than to see caricature Irish countrypeople in a book speaking some daft and inaccurate form of Irish rural speech. I loses me rag altogether (as my old mum would say) and I says to meself, 'There'll be wigs on the green over this before the night is out.'

Q5 If you had grown up in a different county would it have affected your ideas?
Absolutely. Every society has crazy ideas, but they all tend to have different crazy ideas, and they try to teach these to their children. Having lived in a few different countries, I think the best ones are those where the people admit that some of their ideas are crazy, and can laugh at themselves. To me this is a vital part of any genuine education. People who can't laugh at themselves are very, very dangerous -- not least to themselves, but especially to others.

Q6 Did you enjoy hurling when you were in school?
Not playing it. I enjoyed watching it as a kid, but mainly (on a slow Sunday) to see if there'd be any rows. I always figured my family had done their bit for the GAA: my grandfather was a founding member, and my father was a lifelong GAA man -- a footballer when he was young, and an official for yonks later. There were always hurlers in the house, and I have very distinct childhood memories of going with my father to Randalls' , the hurl-makers. I grew up beside Bellefield GAA pitch in Enniscorthy, and my father was one of the trustees, so I saw lots of matches. But I used to prefer watching the crowds, I'm afraid, and my favourite use of the field was when the circus set up there. We'd sneak in and watch the big top being erected and so on -- I was always fascinated by the way things are done ... all the background bits ... I was fascinated by seeing the circus performers out of costume, for instance, and if as a kid I watched a TV show I'd be the geek wondering about the make-up and camera angles, etc. I'm still like that, actually -- we took my son to the panto in Tallaght at Christmas, and I spent half the time trying to figure out the stage lighting. A very sad individual, huh?

I do think hurling is an amazing game, though. It was neglected in Wexford for a long time, and I was delighted when it made a come-back in the 90s. Apart from anything else it means I don't need to hang my head in shame when I'm in Offaly or Tipperary, which is a pleasant change.

Q7 Why is your hairstyle so different on the cover of each of your books?
I'm actually as bald as an egg, and for each book I wear a different one of my vast collection of wigs and hairpieces. On the next one I’ll be wearing a blond mohawk cut with rather fetching turquoise highlights that I've had specially made. Honest, I'm not joking -- only lying. The real reason is I was so poor for years that I couldn't afford a haircut, which is why my hair got longer in each photo. Then I got a very slight case of radiation-poisoning and all of my hair fell out, which of course solved the haircut problem, plus I sold the hair that fell out to a scientific research laboratory and thus partially solved the poverty problem. With the money I got for the hair I decided to buy a hat, but I sent my son to get it for me and, having misheard, he bought a cat instead. It was a beautiful black Persian, with long fur, so we said we'd keep it (we'd lost the receipt, anyway). But then the cat died, and I thought 'Waste not, want not,' and took to wearing it on my head (to replace the hat, like). So if you look closely at the photo on the back of Out of Nowhere, or the one on the poster of me that O'Brien Press do, you'll see that what looks like long hair is actually this dead Persian cat. This is a Little Known Fact. I figured that being on a book cover would sort of immortalise its memory (I'm very sentimental). But now my hair has grown back, and all is well. In the meantime, just in case I get another dose of radiation poisoning (it's hard to avoid in our house -- my wife is radioactive occasionally) we're getting a dog, as a kind of investment.

Q8 Is the storyDream Invader about your own experiences?
Absolutely. My son now 'owns' three Pooshipaws in total, including one of the rare Bree Hill ones (now officially listed as an Endangered Species by the UN). We've set them up in a small catering business near Arklow where they're doing quite well, and we're very proud of them. One of them is getting married in May and we're going to the wedding. Birdie Murray is going to be a bridesmaid. We're really looking forward to the day but we have a real problem deciding what to get as a wedding present -- what on earth, after all, can you give a Pooshipaw?

Q9 Will there be a follow-up to Guns of Easter and Winter of Spies?
Not as such, or at least (I should say) there's none planned -- you know that thing about 'Never say never?' But if I'm doing something about that period I think I'll give the Conway family a rest ... there were a lot of other families knocking about at the time, and the Conways have had enough trouble from me. I used Jimmy once as a 'special guest star' in a story I published in the anthology Big Pictures, and that was fun to do, so I might do something like that again.

Q10 Is it difficult to change from writing one type of book to another e.g. from Guns of Easter to Out of Nowhere?
Not especially. I don't see much difference between my books myself, though others do. I think fantasy has a very bad image in Ireland (among many adults) which it doesn't have elsewhere, and I think this is a very interesting phenomenon which says much more about Irish society than it does about fantasy. I love writing fantasy because there is no limit to the size of complete and utter lies you can tell, whereas with historical fiction you are stuck with mere facts, which never really tell the truth. But I also love history, because it's so completely fascinating when you get beyond the boring approach and down to the nitty gritty of what history is about -- i.e. folks like me and you getting up in the morning and going about their daily lives. I love trying to figure out what it felt like to be there ...what did it look like, smell like, etc. ...and writing it down. But as I never tire of pointing out, my historical books are just as full of fantasy as my so-called 'fantasy' books. They are fundamentally dishonest, because everything is much nicer than it really was. The slum Jimmy Conway lives in is very clean and neat and tidy, and it hardly even stinks; the good luck the Conways have as a family is terribly unlikely ... and so on. Statistically speaking, for instance, it would have been extremely unlikely that all three of the Conway children would have lived to be more than two years old. One or other of them would have stood a very good chance of dying of one of a range of causes whose underlying reason was that they were the poor and nobody in power cared what happened to the poor one whit more than they do nowadays. This is one reason I feel sometimes uncomfortable with the historical fiction I've written -- because the lies are invisible, whereas fantasy is very honest about the fact that it is a big fat lie. Besides, you can deal with much larger issues in fantasy than you can in historical fiction. My ambition in historical fiction at the moment is to write a cowboy story about an Irish family that emigrates to America. I'd love to do a book that contained the whole paraphernalia of a western, partly because it’s a fascinating part of the Irish experience, partly because the reality of that time and place was so much more interesting to me than the myth of it, but mainly (I’m afraid) because I think it would simply be an awful lot of fun to do.


Eoin Colfer answers questions from young readers

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Eoin Colfer
Location:  N/A

Two Wexford authors, Gerard Whelan and Eoin Colfer, were asked questions by senior pupils (aged 8 -- 12) in St Edan's Primary School, Ferns, County Wexford. There are ten questions asked of each author and the first six are the same for both. It is interesting to compare their answers to these questions.

Here Eoin Colfer tells us about growing up in Wexford, about his bestselling novels and about life as a teacher in Wexford -- and in Tunisia!

Q1 Have you ever started writing a book then thrown it in the bin?
Yes and no. I have often given up on a book because I couldn't think of an ending or the plot became too twisted. Once I had 30,000 words done before I realised the book couldn't be finished. But I never throw anything in the bin. Out of those 30,000 words there were several characters and situations that I went on to use in other books.

Q2 Did you always want to write? Did someone encourage your choice?
I have wanted to write since I can remember, and I have been lucky enough to have had my parents' encouragement every step of the way. I have also had the support of several English teachers who gave me high marks and gold stars. I remember several specific instances when my work was praised and I honestly believe that this fed my determination to become a writer.

Q3 When you meet someone for the first time, do you see if they would make a good character for a book?
I don't go around consciously deciding if people would be good characters. I think that interesting people stick in my mind and sometimes they write themselves into a book without me knowing. Often when I am reading over my work I will realise that so and so is just like so and so. If you know what I mean.

Q4 Did growing up in Wexford influence the setting of your novels and the choice of character?
Yes. Your life affects you, so obviously where you are and who you meet will make their way into your stories. My life in Wexford and abroad have been a large part of my novels since Benny and Omar.

Q5 If you had grown up in a different country, would it have affected your ideas?
Ireland has been an integral part of all my books. Also I think being Irish has affected my personality and attitude to many things. I think if I had grown up anywhere else, the stories I'd have to tell would be completely different ones.

Q6 Did you enjoy hurling in school?
I enjoyed watching hurling and tried my best to play it, but I was never good enough to be on the school team. I think creating Benny is my way of fulfilling a dream.

Q7 Are you Benny?
I think that Benny is made up of several real life people. He has the smart mouth of my brothers, the hurling skill of a friend of mine. A large part of him is a young Scottish boy I taught in Tunisia.

Q8 Did you go to Africa to research for Benny and Omar or did the idea come from a holiday?
I was in Africa on a teaching job. While there I was immersed in the Tunisian culture and material for a book more or less beat me over the head.

Q9 Do you like being famous?
I like the books being famous, but as a writer I am very fond of my privacy. Luckily I am still able to walk down any street without being recognised. And even if I am, writers don't get the same kind of rapturous reception as pop stars. Thank goodness.

Q10 Are you going to stay being a teacher now that you have written so many books? Do you prefer being a teacher or a writer?
I have had to take a break from teaching because of publicity duty. I hope to go back in a few years. I can't decide whether I prefer teaching or writing as they are linked. I get ideas from the kids I teach, then I teach kids with the books I read to them.


Frank Murphy answers questions about writing from young readers

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Frank Murphy
Location:  N/A

Cork author, Frank Murphy, was asked questions by third class pupils (aged 8-9) in Eglantine Primary School, Cork City. A former teacher, Frank has been a writer for over twenty years, though he didn't begin to write novels until he had retired from teaching. Here he answers twenty questions about his work, about his favourite authors and love of reading and about the pleasure he gets from long walks in the countryside.

Q1 When you were young, did you want to be a writer?
It didn't occur to me when I was young. I became a writer by accident.

Q2 Why did you decide to be an author?
I enjoyed reading books so much that I felt I'd like to try my hand at writing one.

Q3 Did you like writing when you were young?
How young is young? I was a man with children of my own before I began writing, so the answer to the question is that I didn't write at all when I was young. I did, of course, write essays in school when they were given to us by teachers, but I don't think that counts.

Q4 When did you start to write books?
The first book I wrote was a Geography text for schools. I wrote that in 1963. I wrote it because the publishers asked me to write it. Once it was published and successful the publishers kept badgering me for more, with the result that I wrote a number of school books. Some of those books were English Readers, and they included original short stories by me. I think it was in writing those stories that I thought I would like to try fiction for young people, but I didn't begin to write novels for children until I had retired from teaching.

Q5 How many books have you written altogether?
Counting school books, about twenty.

Q6 Do you like writing books now?
Writing books can be hard work. I don't always enjoy the actual job of writing, especially trying to work out the details of a story. Once I have done a first draft, the rewriting and rearranging and making changes and polishing is enjoyable. The greatest satisfaction I get from writing a story is finishing it. I don't really regard myself as a writer, not like some writers I know. For some of them it is their life's work. I see myself as a retired teacher who writes as a hobby.

Q7 Do you write adult books too?
I haven't yet completed a book for adults. I have completed the first draft of a novel for adults, but a first draft is little more than the germ of an idea.

Q8 When you write stories, do you always know what you are going to write?
No. As the story is developing, a writer is constantly getting new ideas about the characters and how they might act in certain situations. Sometimes the character that has grown in the writer's mind would not be likely to act in the way the writer had first intended. In that case either the plot or the character has to be changed. Usually it is the plot that is changed because changing the character might involve writing a different story.
I like to write about ordinary young people who have to cope with problems in their lives. My sympathies are especially with those who do not have a secure place in a family setting. In Lockie and Dadge, Lockie is a foundling and all he wants in life is to be an ordinary member of an ordinary family. In Dark Secret, David finds himself in a family that's breaking up, his mother dead and his father gone to hospital for a long stay. The boy has no choice but to go to live with a strange grandfather in an out-of-the-way glen in Kerry.

Q9 Of all the books you've written, which is your favourite?
Lockie and Dadge.

Q10 Do you ever read books by other writers?
Yes. When I'm indoors, and with nothing better to do, I am uncomfortable if I don’t have a book in my hand. I always bring a book to a doctor's waiting room or when I travel on a train or go on holidays.

Q11 Where do you get your ideas?
I don't search for ideas, because I know that if I did, nothing would come to me. Ideas come to a writer usually when he or she is doing something else, like walking, washing up, mowing the lawn, watching television, or whatever. An idea to start a story can be anything: a word, a picture, a happening, a person, a character, a headline in a newspaper, a memory, anything. Something just strikes a writer as being, in some way, interesting or important, and then the search for a story to build around the idea begins.
Although I live in the city, I like the countryside very much. When I was younger I loved to get away from the clutter of city life and walk in remote parts of Kerry. With a rucksack on my back, containing a change of clothing, a bottle of water, and a few sandwiches, I set out every summer to walk along quiet roads and over hills for days at a time. Later I drew on that experience. The countryside figures largely in Lockie and Dadge, and in Dark Secret the glen is based on a real one that I discovered in my walking tours in Kerry.

Q12 Do you usually sit in a quiet place when you are writing your stories?
Yes. My garage has been converted to a 'den', and in it I have my books, a music centre and a computer, among a plethora of knick-knacks and discarded items of furniture from the rest of the house. It is difficult to find your way through the clutter, but it is a quiet place, and that is the one thing a writer must have -- quiet and freedom from interruption.

Q13 Did you read a lot when you were young? And what were your favourite books then?
Yes. Life would have been very dull without books when I was young -- no television, boring radio, no cars, no holidays. We just had hurling, football and books.

Q14 What's your favourite book by another author?
My favourite children’s book is Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. I read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens when I was about thirteen years old and it has always been my favourite book for adults.

Q15 Who is your favourite author?
Nowadays I read William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Henry Roth. Over the years I've had different favourites: Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, Grahame Greene, DH Lawrence, and many others.
Among children's authors I like Philippa Pearce and Roald Dahl, but I like the Irish authors best: Marita Conlon McKenna, Maeve Friel, Gerard Whelan, Dan Kissane, Siobhán Parkinson and Mary Beckett, to name just a few.

Q16 What books did you like when you were a boy?
I liked the Biggles books a lot. They were about a pilot named Major James Bigglesworth and were written by Captain W E Johns -- full of adventure and action. I also liked books about cowboys and Indians. When I became a little older the author I really liked was Jack London, writer of White Fang, The Call of the Wild and books about the frozen landscape of Alaska.

Q17 How did you come up with the names for the books?
I suggest names to the publisher, usually based on something in the story. The publisher accepted my suggestion for Charlie Harte and his Two-Wheeled Tiger, but changed my name for Lockie and Dadge. I had suggested Adagio con Brio, a musical term which means slow and lively, which is, of course, an impossibility, but I thought it suited Dadge with his slow jennet and his own lively personality.

Q18 You were a school principal, but did you ever think of being anything else, like a librarian?
I was principal of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh Boys' School in Bishopstown, County Cork and, no, I never wanted to be a librarian but I often envy them, living their lives among books.

Q19 What will your next book be about?
It is very difficult to talk about one's next book. It will come into existence only if I finish it and if publishers think it's worth their while publishing it.

Q20 What was the most successful book you ever wrote?
It must be Lockie and Dadge, because it won an award.

Student Reaction to Visit to Millisle Primary School of Marilyn Taylor and Mr Hackworth

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

On 11 October 2000, Mrs Marilyn Taylor and Bobby Hackworth visited Primary 7 class in Millisle Primary School, Abbey Street, Millisle, County Down. They talked to us about Millisle's history and about Marilyn's book, Faraway Home.

Martin McDowell, age 11: When Mrs Taylor arrived we gathered in a group and listened to her talk about her books and she was happy to answer any questions we asked. She told us where she had got the idea of writing about the refugees and Millisle. She decided to write about them after a visit to the Belfast Jewish community because she was intrigued about the subject of refugees in Millisle and wanted to find out more. Mr Hackworth, a local historian who lived in Millisle during the war and knew the refugees, answered any of our queries about the farm where the Jewish refugees lived. He is really the Bobby Hackett mentioned in the book and he helped Mrs Taylor with a lot of her research.
Mrs Pitman and Mrs Colwell, parents who helped us create a picture of Faraway Home and Tsahi Cohen from Israel also joined us to listen to them speaking. Tsahi Cohen is an Israeli Jew, now married to the daughter of one of our classroom assistants, and lives in Northern Ireland. He came in to speak to us about his experiences of living in a foreign country and about the difficulties he has had.
After break Mrs Taylor listened to the stories we had written. She remarked that our narrative writing was very good and that the imagination shown was fantastic. Mrs Taylor also said that we should think about careers as authors. Photographers from three newspapers came and took photos of the class with Mrs Taylor and Mr Hackworth.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself that morning and I'm glad the teachers organised the visit.

Character profiles in Faraway Home

Rudi by Andrew Pitman, age 10
The character I have picked from this novel is Uncle Rudi.
I think he looks quite old because he has a bald head and I think he is Papa's older brother which means they might look a bit the same. I think he wears a cap and just ordinary men's clothes like a long-sleeved shirt, a jacket, dark trousers and shoes. He did not have any scars or marks until he got taken away by the Nazis. When he came back he was 'a limping old man, his skin papery, ashy stubble on his face, a filthy cap on his shaved head. One foot was wrapped in bloodstained cloth, he gave off a sharp, rank smell' (p.31).
Uncle Rudi is very kind and thoughtful to his family and his friends. When they were taken away and forced to do things that they did not want to do he stood up and said, 'Leave us alone' but he got beaten.

Rosa by Emily McAllister, age 10
The book doesn't tell you much about Rosa's appearance but this is what I found.
She was a small girl who was seven, nearly eight years old. She had long dark hair and brown eyes. Rosa liked to wear her dirndl which was the Austrian national dress. She was kind and thoughtful. Rosa liked eating ice cream and had a doll which she liked a lot. She also liked dancing. She had a blue blouse and a brown jumper and quite small hands on the front cover illustration.

My opinion of the novel by Andrew Johnston, age 11
The story begins in Vienna during the Second World War when Hitler marches through Vienna and takes control. Karl and Rosa are Jewish children who manage to get out of Vienna to Northern Ireland on one of the Kindertransports.
My favourite character in the novel is Uncle Rudi because he is so funny and he makes me feel happy and he lightens the mood in the story.
The author made the story exciting and interesting for me because she put so much detail in to it. She wrote very good descriptions and made the characters come to life.

My visit to Millisle Primary School: the place behind the story of Faraway Home

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

Since the publication of Faraway Home, and especially since it was chosen as the 1999/2000 Children's Books Ireland/Bisto Book of the Year, I have spoken in numerous schools and libraries all over Ireland, North and South -- visits which were enjoyable and rewarding.

The visit to Millisle Primary School on Abbey Road, Millisle, County Down, however, had a special meaning for me. During the Second World War, this school (in an earlier building) welcomed a disparate group of bewildered, homesick Jewish child refugees, who found themselves living on a remote farm in County Down, Northern Ireland, after their escape from the Nazis.

These were the refugee children I wrote about in Faraway Home. They arrived at the school in a completely strange country, where they knew no one, had no family and could not even speak the language. By the time I'd finished the book, I felt I almost knew them personally.

On the day of my visit to the school, the huge interest in the book from pupils, parents, visitors and teachers, in particular from Ms Linda Patterson who organised the visit as part of the school Book Week, was encouraging and heart-warming. It was good to see my old friend Bobbie Hackworth, local historian, who as a child used to play football with the refugees. Bobbie is still in touch with many of his childhood friends, now in their seventies and eighties. His deep knowledge and countless memories of that time in Millisle were of great help to me when writing the book.
I was impressed by the pupils' detailed interest in Faraway Home, by the projects and work they had done on the book and its background. The children's own stories were of a high standard and very impressive, but especially remarkable was the elaborate and realistic collage of the book cover produced by children and teachers.

Writing Faraway Home has had a deep emotional effect on me -- tracking down the former refugees in Ireland, Britain and the US; visiting the actual farm (now in private hands); finding out about wartime life in rural County Down; and reading eye-witness accounts of the massive Belfast Blitz. And whatever I write about in the future, Millisle -- the village in its beautiful setting, the people and their history -- will always have a special place in my memory.

Quiz based on Faraway Home

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

Quiz based on Faraway Home by Marilyn Taylor, prepared by Tom Hanley, Stratford National School, Dublin.
28 Feb, 2001

All of the answers are at the end.

  1. What German word was used for the unification of Germany and Austria?
  2. Which country was renamed 'Ostmark' by the Nazis?
  3. What profession did Uncle Rudi have?
  4. Who or what was Goldi?
  5. Who in the story won the Iron Cross?
  6. Who gave Rosa the iron ring?
  7. Who warned the Muller Family about the coming violence of Kristallnacht?
  8. What two sacred objects did the Rabbi rescue from the flames of Leopoldstrasse Synagogue?
  9. What was the relationship between (a) Karl and Rosa; and (b) Tommy and Benji?
  10. What were the Kindertransports?
  11. What kind of book did Uncle Rudi give Karl?
  12. From which railway station in Vienna did Karl and Rosa depart?
  13. How many suitcases each were Karl and Rosa permitted to take with them out of Austria?
  14. What bible story model toy did Rosa have to leave behind her in Austria?
  15. Which construction toy, still available today, did Karl have to leave behind?
  16. Karl and Rosa arrived at the port of Harwick. In what country is Harwick?
  17. Name two features of London that Karl described in a card he sent to his parents.
  18. Who was head of the Jewish Community in Belfast?
  19. Eva came from ..., whilst Danny Grun came from ...
  20. Which family in the story owned a Morris Minor?
  21. With what industry in Belfast would you associate Harland and Wolff?
  22. Yacobi came from a family with a background in what profession?
  23. What kind of professional qualification did Mr Senesh have?
  24. What kind of building was The Regal in Donaghadee?
  25. What hot drink did the children have throughout their first night in Millisle?
  26. Whose voice did the children hear announce on the radio that Britain was at war?
  27. What were U-Boats?
  28. What was Judy's family name?
  29. Where in Dublin did Judy's family live?
  30. What was Judy's favourite magazine?
  31. What weekly event was organised in Dublin by the Jewish Youth Club?
  32. What was the name of the kosher Holiday Hotel in Bray?
  33. Tilly was suffering from 'consumption'. What is the official name for the disease?
  34. To what Donegal seaside resort did Judy's friend, Nora, go on holiday that summer?
  35. Judy's brother, Michael, was a student. What was he studying?
  36. What weekly wage was paid to volunteers working at Millisle?
  37. What was the role of the 'glimmer man' in Dublin during the wartime years?
  38. Complete the wartime expression: 'Careless ... costs lives.'
  39. Complete the wartime expression: 'Dig for ...'
  40. What kind of sweet, not freely available in Northern Ireland, did Norman give Yacobi?
  41. What three comics did the children see on the table when they arrived at Millisle?
  42. Why were the windows in Belfast criss-crossed with sticky paper?
  43. Where did the refugee children have breakfast on the morning of the Dubliners' arrival?
  44. How did the refugee children working in the field know when it was noon?
  45. What was known as 'The Emergency' in the Republic of Ireland?
  46. If the refugees had not managed to get into Millisle Farm in Northern Ireland, to what island might they have been moved?
  47. Where on the farm was Judy sent to work on her first day?
  48. Where was Grace Doherty from?
  49. Name three games or fun activities that took place in the rec.
  50. Who was fostered by the Gould Family?
  51. Judy ran away, terrified, from Alice. Who was Alice?
  52. What job did Mr Teevan have in Millisle?
  53. Who was the man on the white horse whose picture was painted on gable walls in Belfast?
  54. Complete the name of this famous Viennese musical group: The Vienna Boys' ...
  55. Complete the title of this traditional Ulster song: 'The Auld ... Flute'.
  56. Complete Peewee's question: 'Well, are you ... Jews or ... Jews?'
  57. Before their arrival in Dublin, Judy's family came from what European country?
  58. What was Judy making when she was turning the handles of a wooden churn?
  59. What traditional Jewish dance was danced by the refugees in the rec at Millisle?
  60. What classic romantic film, which had just premiered in London, did Judy read about?
  61. What does the German word Postilion mean?
  62. How did Uncle Rudi die?
  63. Who often went to Ballycopeland Windmill to think and reflect?
  64. Who was with Karl and Rosa as they looked at their family photos in the byre at Millisle?
  65. Who was Mitzi?
  66. What job did Wee Billy have?
  67. On what peninsula is Millisle?
  68. As well as Jews, name another group of people Hitler tried to exterminate (wipe out).
  69. What country could the refugees see across the sea from the beach at Donaghadee?
  70. What kind of business did the Crawford Family run?
  71. From the age of ten, in what industry did Granny Crawford work?
  72. What is 'powse'?
  73. Tommy made his way to what is now Israel. By what name was Israel known then?
  74. When the air raid warning sounded, in addition to their coats, what other object did everyone bring with them?
  75. What famous Jewish psalm, well known to Christians, was recited in the barn during the air raid alert?
  76. Where had Karl previously met Bobby Hackett, goalkeeper of the village football team?
  77. What was the final score in the football game?
  78. Who was the only girl who played in the game?
  79. Complete this statement from Rosa: 'I don't want that ..., I want my real ...'
  80. Which Irish poet wrote the lines quoted by Karl to Judy?
  81. What is the difference between a 'skein' of geese and a 'gaggle' of geese?
  82. What did Lisl do back in Vienna that caused so much pain to Karl?
  83. What do the words 'Liebe Judy' mean?
  84. Why did the Nazis shoot Herr Klaar, Karl's old teacher back in Vienna?
  85. After what important ceremonial meal did Karl plan to run away from Millisle?
  86. What is Matzah?
  87. The miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt is called the 'E ...'
  88. What small Christian group did great work both in helping victims of the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s and in assisting Jewish wartime refugees in Britain during the 1940s?
  89. Where do Brent Geese breed?
  90. What river did Karl and his friends cross as they travelled towards Lisburn?
  91. How many children entered Britain by means of the Kindertransports?
  92. Complete the sentence: 'Ideal bombing conditions were a ... sky and a ... moon.'
  93. Which Taoiseach sent fire brigades to Belfast after the Blitz to help put out fires?
  94. How many fire engines came to Belfast from Dublin?
  95. How many people were killed in the Blitz of Belfast on the night of Easter Tuesday, 1941?
    Was it a) 4 b) 24 c) 54 d) 745
  96. How many Jews were killed during the Holocaust?
  97. How many of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were children?
  98. Complete these lines 'Come away, O human child, To the waters and the ...'
  99. Name another book written by Marilyn Taylor.
  100. Name another writer published by O'Brien Press.
  101. Complete the advice given to Karl by Yakobi at the Passover Meal: 'We must have ..., without ..., we have nothing.'


Answers to Faraway Home quiz

  1. Anschluss
  2. Austria
  3. A comic actor
  4. The Muller's dog
  5. Opa
  6. Oma
  7. Leni
  8. Sacred scrolls, Menorah
  9. First cousins
  10. The transporting of Jewish children out of Germany to safety prior to the outbreak of WW2
  11. A German-English dictionary or an autograph book
  12. Westbahnhof Station
  13. One each
  14. Noah's ark
  15. Meccano
  16. England
  17. Two of: Tower Bridge, Big Ben, red double-decker buses
  18. Jack Freeman
  19. Prague / Berlin
  20. The Gould family
  21. Shipbuilding
  22. Medicine
  23. A degree in agriculture
  24. A cinema
  25. Ovaltine
  26. Mr Neville Chamberlain
  27. German submarines
  28. Simons
  29. Portobello
  30. Picturegoer
  31. Hops (dances)
  32. Stein's Kosher Hotel
  33. Tuberculosis (TB)
  34. Bundoran
  35. Medicine
  36. 2s/6p (half a crown)
  37. He checked that gas was rationed and at reduced pressure
  38. Talk
  39. Victory
  40. A wine gum
  41. War Weekly, Hotspur, Beano
  42. To reduce flying glass
  43. Under a sycamore tree in the hayfield
  44. The Angelus bell
  45. World War Two
  46. Isle of Man
  47. The hen house
  48. Tyrone
  49. Ping pong, billiards, cardplaying, meetings, chats, dancing
  50. Rosa
  51. A cow
  52. A vet
  53. William of Orange
  54. Choir
  55. Orange
  56. Roman Catholic / Protestant
  57. Poland
  58. Butter
  59. Hora
  60. Gone With the Wind
  61. Postman
  62. Suicide
  63. Karl
  64. Judy
  65. Rosa's doll from Austria
  66. A soldier
  67. Ards
  68. Gypsies, homosexuals, socialists, trade unionists, social democrats, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc
  69. Scotland
  70. A pub
  71. The linen mills
  72. White dust from the linen cloth
  73. Palestine
  74. Gas masks
  75. The Lord's My Shepherd
  76. At the local school
  77. Village Team 2, Millisle Farm 1
  78. Grace Doherty
  79. Doll
  80. W.B. Yeats
  81. A 'skein' is a flock of geese in flight formation, a gaggle is a group of geese.
  82. She joined the Hitler Youth Movement and ended her friendship with Karl.
  83. Dear Judy
  84. He sheltered people on the run from the Nazis.
  85. Passover meal
  86. Unleavened bread
  87. The Exodus
  88. The Quakers
  89. The Arctic
  90. The Lagan
  91. Ten thousand
  92. Cloudless / full
  93. Eamon de Valera
  94. Thirteen
  95. (d) 745
  96. Six million
  97. One and a half million
  98. Wild
  99. Could This Be Love, Call Yourself A Friend, Could I Love A Stranger
  100. Too many to mention ... Visit your local bookshop or see www.obrien.ie
  101. Hope

The Match in Millisle

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

The Match
Welcome to the football match between the Refugee Camp and Millisle Village. This is going to be an exciting game and either team could win it. The match is just about to kick off now, but wait ... a player has just come in at the last minute and it seems to be ... yes, it is Grace Doherty. I wonder is this is history in the making, because I've never seen a girl playing in a football game in my life before, but the village team doesn't seem to have any problem about Grace lining out. Let's just hope she can stay the pace.

Five minutes into the match
We've just played five minutes so far and the Refugee manager -- Wee Billy, as they call him -- is shouting out all sorts of instructions. And here's a great chance for Millisle Village and, yes, it's a GOAL! It's Refugee Camp nil, Millisle Village one, and the Camp's goalkeeper Gaby is furious with his defence.

Forty minutes into the match
Here comes the camp on the attack. And that's a nice header by Peewee. Norman Isaac is through in on goal, but what a great save by Bobby Hackett in the Village goal! And he made that save look very easy as the ball is cleared away.

Forty-five minutes into the match
So, coming up to half-time and it looks like it will be one-nil to Millisle Village at the break. But wait, here they come on the counter-attack, and there's a shot and a GOAL! It's two-nil to the Village and can the Refugees come back? As the whistle blows for half-time, the two teams take a break and get their instructions from their managers.

Second Half
Now the two teams are getting ready to kick off for the second half and neither seems to have made any changes at half-time. I can see the Refugee's centre-half Karl Muller from Vienna is warming up.

Forty-seven minutes into the match
Here comes Millisle Village on the counter-attack and there's a fantastic shot but what a great save by Gaby in the Camp's goal, and that could keep them in the game. And the crowd has really started to get behind the Refugees as the game is starting to come alive.

Eighty-nine minutes into the match
Here comes the Refugee Camp on the attack, and Pee Wee has it as he passes the ball to Danny Grun, and back to Peewee and on to Grace Doherty and she gets past one and she shoots and it’s a GOAL! Grace Doherty has scored for the Refugee Camp! The crowd goes wild as the final whistle blows and the two teams are being applauded off the pitch. The final score is Refugee Camp one, Millisle Village two. This has been an absolutely brilliant match for which both sides deserve great credit.

Appropriate Lies

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Gerard Whelan
Location:  N/A

An unusual glimpse inside the workings of a writer's mind, this should be of interest to readers aged 10-14, as well as to parents and teachers (not to mention publishers and literary critics!).

I can never understand why people want to read anything at all about writers. Writers spend their time sitting at desks or tables making stuff up -- they're far too busy doing that to go out into the world and actually do interesting things. So I can understand wanting to read the things they've written, but I certainly can't fathom why anyone in their right mind would want to read about people whose most interesting activity consists of sitting looking at a sheet of paper and trying to think up some good lie to fill it with!

Howsomever, I've been asked to say something about my books, such as they are. Well, I've so far written four novels. Two were historical novels, about the lives of a family named Conway during the Irish War of Independence. The other two were fantasies, and what they were 'about' I've no idea at all -- your guess is as good as mine (if not better). Sometimes people are surprised at the fact that I can switch from one type of book to the other, but I simply think that such people have a very peculiar attitude to life.

I am actually very bad at speaking about my books, because anything that I've got to say about them is already there between their covers. As well as this I really like to leave the reader some elbow room -- I'd honestly much rather hear what the readers think they're about. One of the most truly wonderful things about books is that they are different for each reader -- as distinct from, say, television, which is what they call a 'reductive' medium. I really resent it myself when some writer, who wrote a book I love, starts rabbiting on about what his or her book 'meant'. I get quite annoyed at them sometimes! Who on earth is this fool, I ask myself, giving such a stupid explanation of a book that I myself understand much better? When I started writing books myself, of course, I soon realised that most real writers haven't a clue what their books are about. But they're asked now and then to explain what they've written, and (since most writers are incredibly nice people) they feel they have to say something. So they do what they do in their books -- they tell some appropriate lies. That shouldn't surprise anyone: lying is a writer's job!

Here are some random and hopefully appropriate lies about my novels:

I originally wanted to write about the War of Independence so that I could picture it better in my own mind, and I was pretty much fed up with reading about what famous people did at the time. I wanted to know what ordinary people were doing, not just politicians -- who are, on the whole, just as dull as writers. So I invented the Conways, and watched to see what they'd do, and then I wrote it down. And, lo and behold, lots of other people liked the result, and bought the book, and even gave me prizes for it, so I said to myself: 'Janey, this writing lark is all right!'

I always sort of liked Jimmy Conway, the central character (note that phrase -- he wasn't the 'hero': I don't do heroes and villains) of The Guns of Easter; but when all was said and done he really was a bit of a goody-two-shoes. I mean, don't get me wrong: I really liked him, and he was fine to read and write about, but I don't know that I'd like to spend a lot of time with him in real life -- he'd be likely to start reminding you, whenever you were having any fun at all, that you were Doing Something Bad, and would Get In Trouble. He had a much more normal side to him too, of course, otherwise he'd never have survived his adventures during the Easter Rising; but I have to admit there was a strong streak of the bore in him.

This aspect of Jimmy only really became clear to me after The Guns of Easter was published, as did the shameful fact that I'd really neglected his two sisters, Sarah and Josie. All the two girls seemed to me to do in the book was cry -- or else get sick. So when I came to write A Winter of Spies, it seemed only fair to make one of the two girls the central character and, rather than being a virtuous little bore, I thought I'd make her a complete madwoman. So Sarah Conway became the main character in A Winter of Spies, and I was very proud later to be told by more than one young girl that she was something of a role model for them -- though heaven help their parents if they meant it!

I suppose that, being a big, serious, prize-winning adult writer whose work is used in schools, I really have to say something about what these books were 'about' -- even if it is only one more appropriate lie. So how's about this: the main theme of The Guns of Easter is about the fact that the world is a complicated place where there are no easy, black-and-white answers; the main theme of A Winter of Spies is the very same. In fact, come to think of it, the main theme of my fantasies (Dream Invader and Out of Nowhere) is the same thing too. Not bad, huh -- only one idea, and I've managed to turn it into four books so far! Look out, RL Stein!

In the last analysis, of course, books are 'about' themselves, about the stories they tell. I’m sure you've come across books with really important, wonderful messages that were simply -- as books -- just too dull for words. You can recognise them in public libraries -- they're the books that have obviously never been read past page twenty-two. Personally I love telling stories, and seeing whether I can finish them. My favourite thing in writing a book is to land my characters in some dreadful situation and to say to myself: 'There, smartypants -- get them out of that if you can!' I figure any writer who never has that feeling should go and do something else with their lives.

In between the two books on the Conways I wrote a book called Dream Invader, which was a perfectly ordinary story about a monster, a witchy-type woman, a young boy and his cousin, a painter's daughter. It was a mad sort of book with ideas from all sorts of places, and the monster ended up being one of the good guys. In my experience this is true of many monsters -- it's the ones who seem like the good guys to start off with that you really need to watch. At any rate, lots and lots of kids liked this book, and enough adults liked it to give it the Bisto Book of the Year Award. Many writers (and kids) have told me that they were very pleased with this fact, because they felt that fantasy was always regarded very snootily in Ireland, and that its status would be raised by a fantasy novel winning the Book of the Year Award. Boy, were they ever wrong!

As predictable as ever, I followed up the second book about the Conways with a second fantasy, which was an even crazier story called Out of Nowhere. Reaction to this was really fascinating, since it seemed to divide people into those who loved it and those who ... er ... very much didn't love it. Fortunately the people I had written it for belonged very much in the 'loved it' group and, since it's been printed three times in its first year, there seem to be an awful lot of them. I got many wonderful compliments about the book both from Ireland and beyond, but my favourite was from one boy who normally didn’t read very much -- he had a life, and as a result was normally far too busy. But he'd been given Out of Nowhere, had read a bit of it, got hooked, and finished it more or less at a sitting. This boy told me that it 'wasn't really like a book at all'. I sort of knew what he meant, but what I found really great is that this also pretty accurately describes the attitude of people who didn't like the book. I won't even try to describe Out of Nowhere, because I've tried before and I can't. As to what it is about, or what it means, I'll tell you what: I hereby grant anybody reading this the right to declare the definitive version of what it is about. And I swear that, if you ask me, I'll tell you you're absolutely correct. My own opinion (for what little it's worth) is that it's about two hundred and forty pages long. Oh ... and it says that the world is a very complicated place, etc. Actually, in Out of Nowhere I lost the run of myself entirely, and went so far as to imply that the entire universe is a very complicated place. So at least I am in agreement with science, which is always nice to know.

Frank Murphy answers questions about Charlie Harte

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Frank Murphy
Location:  N/A

Frank Murphy answers questions from young readers about Charlie Harte and his Two-wheeled Tiger.

Cork author Frank Murphy was asked questions by third class pupils (aged 8-9), in Eglantine Primary School, County Cork, about the inspiration behind the book and its characters, and whether he knows any of them.

Q1 Where did you get the idea for Charlie Harte and his Two-wheeled Tiger?
It began with wondering what a poor boy could do to get a bike of his own.

Q2 Was The Hair based on a real person?
His physical appearance was based on that of a pop star. I wanted him to look different, and that pop star's appearance suggested itself to me.

Q3 How long did it take to write Charlie Harte and his Two-wheeled Tiger?
On and off, about three months.

Q4 Where do you get the names?
Mostly I just think of a name, and if I think it fits, I use it.

Q5 How did you come up with a talking bike?
This was something that developed as I was writing the story. When I had got Charlie a home-made bike, and realised how delighted he was to have a bike of his very own -- and that he had become very fond of it, talking to it in the morning, and so on -- I felt that the bike should be able to communicate with him. I spent a long time trying to work out how this could be done. I dismissed the idea of the bike being able to make sounds that could be heard through the air, and decided that the sounds would have to travel in some other way. Eventually I came up with the idea of the sounds coming through a wire, like a telephone, and it was an easy step from there to the walkman.

Q6 Who is your favourite character in the book?

Q7 Why did you decide Charlie's bike would be like a tiger?
This came about because the children had only small quantities of paint of different colours. They put the different colours on in stripes, and I thought they might see it as being like a tiger.

Q8 Will you write another book about Charlie?
I have no plans to do it at the moment.

Q9 Is Charlie based on a real person?
No. He is based on any boy who would like to have a bike and can't afford one.

Q10 Are the other characters based on real people?
Every character is based in some way on real people, not necessarily on a one-to-one basis. A writer can use bits of one person combined with bits of others to make the character in the story. Miko is probably the one character who is based entirely on a real person.

Q11 How did you think of bike robbing?
A story is mainly about problems and ways of solving them. I had to create a problem for Charlie, and the one I thought of was depriving him of his bike.

Q12 When you were young, did you try to make a bike?
No. I knew so little about mechanical things like wheelbarrows and bicycles that if I tried to make one, I have no doubt it would have exploded.

Q13 What is your favourite part of the book?
The part I liked best while writing it was when the bike spoke for the first time to Charlie. I really loved writing, 'Charlie, you're an ass!'

Q14 Why did you write Charlie Harte and not something else?
Because I'm me.

Q15 Why did you make Charlie poor instead of rich?
Rich people don't have a story worth telling. You will find it very hard to make a story interesting if your main character doesn't have a problem.


Marilyn Taylor talks about the Jackie and Kev Trilogy

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

The Jackie & Kev Trilogy: Could This Be Love? I Wondered; Could I Love A Stranger? and Call yourself a Friend? By Marilyn Taylor

Just because a novel you are writing is set in the present day doesn't mean that you don't have to do any research, Marilyn Taylor has discovered. As well as long hours in her local public library, she has interviewed probation officers, court officials, social workers, gardaí, teachers, students and many others to help her to create as accurate and authentic a picture as possible of modern teenage life. As Marilyn explains:

When I set out a few years ago to write the Jackie & Kev teenage trilogy, I had a few problems. As a long-time school librarian, I thought I had a good idea of the sort of readable, lively story that teenage readers would enjoy, about everyday life in Ireland for today's young people -- school, home, friends, discos, relationships. I knew that the first story, Could This Be Love? I Wondered, was going to be about Jackie and Kev, how they meet, the conflict caused by their different social backgrounds, and the ups and downs of their relationship.

When I started writing, my three children, although they were very helpful and encouraging, were well past their teenage years. And of course my own teenage years were even further back (though I could remember well my thoughts and feelings, fears and lack of confidence in those often difficult growing up years!)

So because of this generation gap, I needed to get lots of information and detail to make the books authentic, about real teenagers of today, rather than just an adult's eye view of teenagers.

Then one day, on my way into work, I realised that here in my school I was surrounded by teenagers -- the very people I was writing about! So I asked a teacher to lend me a class for research. They assumed they would be getting a lecture from the school librarian on what they should be reading.

But instead, I asked them to write down their favourite pop groups, albums, videos, TV and radio programmes. Then I asked them to describe in detail what they wore out of school, from hats (if they ever wore them) down to boots, shoes or trainers.

They answered many more questions, for example: Where did they buy their clothes? What did they do in their spare time? What presents did they like for Christmas or birthdays? Which cafés or takeaways did they go to with their friends? What kinds of food did they like? What was their favourite chocolate bar or ice cream?

Then we went on to words and phrases they used among themselves -- for example, the word or words they would use to tell their friends they were angry or fearful, happy or embarrassed. I did more of this kind of research with other classes and schools for all three books in the series.

I wove much of what I learned into the everyday lives of my characters -- Jackie and Kev and their friends and family. Some of the in-words and phrases were especially useful for the dialogue, allowing the characters to speak to each other in what I have been told, is a realistic way.

In addition I visited many places to get information, background and atmosphere for the Jackie & Kev books, including:


  • Disco: Discos feature in all three books, and I wanted to be sure I got them right. I hovered about furtively at the back of a disco in a sports club near my home, hoping people would assume I was a supervising parent or teacher. It was a bit dark, but I was able to see (and hear!) enough to pick up the atmosphere. Those who have read the books must be the judges of how accurately I described the disco scenes!


  • Computer game shop: For the humorous scene in Could I Love A Stranger? in which Philip (Jackie's younger brother who's usually in trouble), with the family in tow, gets a PlayStation for his birthday.


  • Fast food cafés: In Could this be Love? I Wondered, Kev has had to leave school to earn some money, and gets a job in a café called Burgerama. Also, the crowd hangs out in Pizza Paradise. Several scenes between Kev and Jackie (including the one where they first meet face-to-face) take place in these cafés -- and I needed to know about video jukeboxes and what fast food they would be ordering!


  • Irish Marine Rescue Service: I needed to find out what happens when people are swept out to sea, as in the dramatic near-drowning incident on a Wexford beach which forms the climax to Could I Love A Stranger?


  • District Court: I visited the court for an accurate depiction of what would happen to a young person up in court on a malicious damage charge, as Kev was in Call Yourself A Friend? when he took the law into his own hands with disastrous consequences.


  • Boutique in my local shopping centre: There is a scene in Could this be Love? I Wondered in which Jackie, Deirdre and their friends go shopping for clothes, just before Jackie unexpectedly meets the dreaded Sinead, Kev's former girlfriend.


  • Swimming pool: It was important to get Jackie and the crowd’s visit to the swimming pool right, as it plays an important part in the developing relationship between Jackie and the mysterious Daniel, and also shows up the negative attitude of Jackie’s best friend, Deirdre, towards him.


  • The Shell House: Various other places that I know find their way into the books -- in particular the little ruined Shell House in the local park where Jackie and Daniel meet secretly in Could I Love a Stranger? This is a real place in the wooded area of a park near where I live, called Bushy Park.


I have listed these places to give an idea of some of the detail that goes into a story -- even a contemporary one. As you can see, material for a story, its scenes and its setting, can be found all around you!

All this research was great fun to do, and introduced me not just to teenage style and fashion, but to radio & TV programmes that I'd never seen or heard, and indeed, to a lively and often fascinating teenage world.


Although my methods of finding out about teenagers were effective in creating the characters, dialogue and details of everyday life, I soon discovered that the more up-to-date these details are, the faster they go out of date. I did try to choose fashion, pop music, videos, in-words, etc., that would (hopefully) be fairly long lasting.

And fortunately, I was able to update some of these details, when the three Jackie & Kev books were recently reprinted with brand new covers.


Behind the Story: Call Yourself a Friend

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

A look at the process of writing the third story in the Jackie & Kev trilogy:

The third book in the Jackie & Kev series, Call Yourself a Friend? starts with a horrific drink-driving accident in which a teenage girl is seriously injured, suffering brain damage and memory loss. The book follows the effects of this disaster on the victim herself, and on her family and friends.

In researching this story, I needed to find out not just the medical effects and treatment required by someone who suffers such a serious accident, but also how it would actually have felt for her. Someone I found on the internet, who had been knocked off his bike and suffered a similar skull fracture, e-mailed me about his personal experience. For example: a nurse came into his room and asked if he recalled her name. When he said that he had never seen her before, she explained she had spoken to him the previous day and told him her name. This was his first realisation that he was suffering from partial amnesia (memory loss). This kind of detail was of great value in helping me to write realistically about the accident.

I also approached Mothers Against Drunken Drivers, members of which greatly approved of the subject of drink-driving being highlighted. Some of them described details of how they and their families coped with their terrible loss. This helped me to deal with the feelings and attitudes of family and friends -- including Jackie, who tells the story.

The reaction of Kev, the victim's brother in the fictional story, is one of anger and bitterness at what has happened to his sister. He takes the law into his own hands with disastrous results.

To write the scene in which Kev appears in court, I visited a local courthouse and listened to several cases. I had a long session with a probation officer, who told me what would be likely to happen to Kev in court, what sentence he would get, how the judge would treat him, and also what would happen to the drunken driver.

Despite this serious theme, there is also humour in Call Yourself a Friend? when Philip, Jackie's younger brother who is in trouble in all three books -- announces that he has been given a part in the school play, Robin Hood. But when his gran says encouragingly how good he would be as Robin, Philip has to admit that this is a play with a difference: the boys are playing the girls' parts, and vice versa. Philip in fact has to play Maid Marian, and the girl who plays Robin is a lot taller than him, and very bossy!

The idea for a play with reversed roles came from my friend Liz Morris, herself a teacher (who is also one of the organisers of this website). I had great fun in the story with the rehearsals for the play, the actual performance -- which comes at a crucial stage in the more serious story -- and also the surprising relationship that develops offstage between the actors playing Maid Marian and Robin.

I also had to suss out information for all sorts of other details of the story, such as what happens in the intensive care ward of a hospital; how someone learns to use crutches; and what kind of involvement school and individual teachers would have in such a crisis.

I hope those who read the book find interest in these glimpses 'behind the story'.

Morgan Llywelyn describes the adventure of writing historical fiction:

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Morgan Llywelyn
Location:  N/A

Most of the books I write are about history because the subject is so fascinating. History is made by remarkable people who do remarkable things. Heroes and villains, courage and cowardice, love and hate, it's all there in the past, waiting to be discovered.

The first novel I ever wrote was taken from the life of an ancestor of mine. This led me to do more family research, which led in turn to Brian Boru. With him I struck gold. He was much larger than life, yet he really lived. He was one of us, perhaps the best of us, and his story was more exciting and colourful than any Hollywood movie. There was a wealth of information about Brian Boru that no novelist had put together before. It was like being a detective, the bits and pieces had to be found in lots of different places. By the time I finished researching Brian's life I was hooked. I had discovered that the research was almost more fun than the writing. But the writing was necessary too -- I wanted to make this man come alive for the readers, so they could see him striding off the page and feel the wind as his sword whistled through the air.

Brian Boru led me to other Irish heroes and villains. A writer needs to understand both sides, and someone who is a hero to us may well be a villain to someone else. Brian Boru was a villain to the Vikings. The Mayo pirate queen, Granuaile, was a villain to her enemy, the English queen, Elizabeth. Strongbow, who invaded Ireland, was a hero to the Normans who followed him. I let him tell his story in his own words, but the Irish girl Aoife, who married him, tells the story from the Irish point of view.

As a writer I have to put myself inside the head of the person I am writing about. For a while I almost am that person. I must know what he or she thought, felt, dared and feared. To do that, I need to find out everything I can about the life and times of my subject.

I have a lot of fun writing. I don't just sit in my study tapping away on a word processor. I spent two weeks on a tallship, walking out on the yardarms and learning how to rig sail, so I could write convincingly of Granuaile's life at sea. I acquired several Irish swords and a battleaxe and practised using them hour after hour, so I could describe the exact pain in Brian's neck and shoulders after a day's battle. I have ridden 'heavy horses' of the type that carried Strongbow and his knights to victory. I have slept in ancient ring forts, snared my own meat and lived off the land for weeks to experience something of life in Cúchulainn's Ireland.

We Irish call ourselves a Celtic people. To understand what the early Celts were like and where they came from originally, I spent time in Hallstatt, in the Austrian Alps. There is a reconstructed village there, modelled on one built by the Celts eight hundred years before Christ. The people who lived there learned how to ride horses and forge iron. They were magnificent craftsmen, as their artefacts show. Just being in those great timber lodges was a powerful experience. I could almost sense our ancestors in the shadows, watching me. But it was not frightening; I felt surprisingly at home.

History is a time machine. With an historical novel we can open a door into the past any time we want and join the heroes and villains there. In Ireland we have had more gallant heroes -- and dreadful villains -- than most countries. Every one of them has a story to tell.

I write books both for adults and for young readers. My adult novels are read by people all over the world who want to learn more about Ireland. In this country, the O'Brien Press publishes my books for young readers. Not all of my books are fiction, however. Remember that I said one had to understand both sides? O'Brien published my non-fiction history, The Vikings in Ireland, to show that the Vikings were people like you and me.

That is my biggest discovery: History consists of people like us. Perhaps some day in the future other writers will be writing about the history we make.

Morgan Llywelyn

Writing The Good Liar

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Gregory Maguire
Location:  N/A

Gregory Maguire describes how he overcame his fear of research and historical accuracy.

Many years ago a new movie about King Arthur was released. The reviews in the newspapers were not favourable. One reviewer remarked, 'When Sir Lancelot leaps off the balcony onto his horse, his cape flies up and the audience can see that his tunic is closed with a zipper up the back.' The point was that there were no zippers back in King Arthur's day. The researchers had made a mistake. I laughed at the review -- at the idea of Sir Lancelot struggling to zip up his beautiful blue vestments -- but the notion of making mistakes about the past frightened me, too. For a long time I would not consider setting a novel anyplace but HERE and NOW -- or else in a fantasy land that could not be criticized, for I would have made up all its rules.

But time marches on and I got older, and, I suppose, braver. Then the time came when the idea of The Good Liar occurred to me. Here's how it happened. I was teaching creative writing in an American school. I told my twelve-year-old students to take a sheet of paper and write down a paragraph about a person. The assignment was that the audience who read or listened to this paragraph ought to be able to visualise the person, and also have some strong, identifiable feeling about him or her. As a teacher I always do the assignment too. So I sat down and wrote the paragraph that starts on the bottom of page 136 of The Good Liar and continues onto page 137.

I didn't know who this person was when I wrote this paragraph. It was someone's mother. (Probably the original version didn't identify her as Maman, as that is French for mother, and I didn't know the person was French yet.) But it was clearly a person from an older time -- a person reading a letter rather than surfing the net or yakking on a cellphone. When was the time? What was in the letter? How could I find out? I took a trip to Ireland to visit a friend who was a teacher. He had to work all day of course. One day it was too wet and cold and miserable to go in to Dublin and poke about Grafton Street. So I built up the fire in his kitchen and made a thousand cups of tea and sat down and began to write. I had decided that the mother in the story was a European woman from the middle part of the last century, and that the war was going on. I was going to write a novel set in the past. I was going to have to do (ugghhh) RESEARCH.

I wrote the first half of The Good Liar in two days, and finished up the second half when I went home. I set the story in France, as I wanted my narrator to be Catholic. (I am Catholic, and I wanted to give myself the comfort of getting SOME things right without having to research them.) The story came to me pretty easily, as I had many brothers and we were all competent liars.

But when the draft was done, I had to go to France and rent a car. I made a list of things I needed to know so that the details in my story could be true. I don't have the list any more, but I do remember a few things I was looking to see:

  • In small villages fifty years ago, did the homes have indoor or outdoor toilets?
  • What crops grew in the fields?
  • Could I find a small rural church with a front door wide enough to allow access to a tank, yet having the front step low enough that a tank could actually roll up it?
  • What are some names of French people from the Touraine district

There were many other questions, perhaps thirty or forty, but I managed to find the answer to most of them. If I couldn't find the answer, I revised that spot in the story to disguise my ignorance. I didn't want any zippers showing if zippers didn't belong! In the end, I am nearly as happy with The Good Liar as with any other story I've written. Emboldened by my success -- no reviews criticised me for getting facts or details wrong -- I went on a few years later to write an adult novel set in seventeenth-century Holland. This was a much more distant time and place for me (and in that I did make a mistake, but I won't tell you what it is).

As for The Good Liar, I am nearly as happy with the title as I am with the entire story. Everyone knows it's not good to lie. So I hope the title provokes a question in the mind of the reader: How could a liar be good? Does the author mean good AT the act of lying, or good BECAUSE of the fact of lying? Different readers might have different ideas.

I also liked the title The Good Liar because it rhymes with my name. If you say the title and the name together -- The Good Liar, Gregory Maguire -- it's a miniature poem. And I suppose, as a writer, I am a good liar. I make up things that didn't happen and try to persuade readers that they did. Or they might have. Or they might yet. If you forget the outside world for even a minute or two while you are reading The Good Liar, then you are the proof that I'm a pretty good liar myself.

Think about the three Owl Babies

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Martin Waddell
Location:  N/A

Think about the three baby owls

  • Sarah is the big sister. She feels that she must be strong and take care of Persy and Bil. Maybe she has other feelings inside herself -- why do you think that she gets them all to sit on her branch?

    Have you got a big sister? What's it like having a big sister? Is it fun? Do you argue?

    Are you the big sister? What's it like being the big sister? Maybe you're the big brother? What's it like?

  • Percy is in the middle. He tries hard not to panic, and knows that their mother goes out to get their food, but ...

    Are you in the middle in your family? Are you sometimes called "the ham in the sandwich"? Are there two or three of you in the middle? Is it difficult to have brothers and sisters older than you and younger than you?

  • Bill. Well, what about bill? He wants his mummy and he's too small to feel anything else. Sometimes we're all like that, even grown-ups!


Maybe you have no brothers or sisters -- sometimes that can be lonely and sometimes it suits you fine.


When their owl mother comes back she
and it was

Why did I pick these words all beginning with S? How do they help the story?

It can be fun using workds tht begin with the same letter. Why don't you try it?

What about words starting with B or M or L?

You could make up your own tongue twisters ... Do you know the one for S that begins "she sells seashells on the sea shore"?

My Favourite Character in Faraway Home

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

Pupils from Stratford National School in Rathgar, Dublin, describe the characters from Faraway Home who made the biggest impression on them.

My favourite character in Faraway Home is Peewee's Granny. She is not the strongest character, but she is my favourite.

She was described as 'a figure so small and withered that she was lost in the cushioned armchair, like a tiny baby in a big cradle.' She had beady eyes in a wrinkled face, framed by a few strands of thin silvery hair, through which pink scalp peeped. She went to Church every Sunday and Mrs Crawford said that her bark was worse than her bite. Peewee told Karl one day that his Granny hadn't gotten out of her bed at the previous night's air raid warning, saying that it would take more than Hitler to get her out of her warm bed.

I thought it was funny when she went to the football match and was cheering on Peewee and Wee Billy, and I like the way she called Judy 'the wean from Dublin'. After a while she became quite friendly with Judy and used to tell her about her days in the York Street linen mill.
by Adam, age 11


My favourite character is Judy. I just like the way she started out angry, not wanting to go to Northern Ireland. She didn't have a choice and she went after some persuasion and she got nicer as the story went on.

Her first experiences at the farm are awful. First she wrecks her good clothes in the chicken pen after not doing the job properly. Then she gets chased down the road by the so-called bull, which turns out to be Alice, one of the local Millisle cows. She goes back to the farm on her holidays to get to know Karl more, but by the time she gets there something has happened, the death of Karl’s uncle. She has a good heart and is very kind to Karl through his experience of his Uncle Rudy dying at a concentration camp.

I think the most important moment in the book is when Karl, Judy and Peewee try to help Karl escape the farm and join the airforce. When Karl changes his mind they stop at the pub that Peewee's parents are in charge of and find out about Wee Billy dying. Judy helps Peewee and Granny through Wee Billy's death. She is a changed person.
by Alex F, age 12


My favourite characters from Faraway Home would have to be Karl Muller, Judy Simons and Leni (Karl's next door neighbour in Vienna).

Karl is my special favourite character because he is a kind, considerate and understanding person. He understood why he had to leave his parents, relatives and his dog Goldi behind in Austria. He understood why Mr and Mrs Gould adopted Rosa. There were a lot of people to take care of ... for instance, his family in Austria, Rosa and himself. He had some really tough times, like when Rosa broke her leg and smashed the china face doll to pieces and when he got a letter saying that Goldi had been destroyed, that his uncle Rudi had committed suicide and that his family were being deported.

My true favourite is Judy. In the course of the book, Judy developed her personality. She changed from being a stubborn girl who didn't want anything to do with the war to a girl who could change the world and who looked at life in a very different way. She wrote letters to Karl and signed herself 'Your friend' in the first one, but when Lisl was out of the picture she wrote 'Yours ever'.
Like Karl's headmaster, who was killed for sheltering Jews and gypsies, Leni risked her life to help Karl's family. She warned them about Kristallnacht, even though her husband supported the Nazis. During the war, she secretly slipped messages to Karl and to Karl's family. I think she was very truthful, trustworthy and loyal. I also think she was the kind of person you could depend on to help you through your problems.
by Anisha, age 10


We read a class novel called Faraway Home and my favourite character is Yakobi. I think he is a good character because he tries his best to help the refugee children not to worry about their families. For example, one night in the story there was an air-raid warning and all the children went downstairs to hide. People were playing cards, or games like 'I spy', and some were singing. But Yakobi noticed a little boy that was always crying. The children thought he was crying because he was missing his parents, and they were right. Yakobi went to this boy and started talking to him about things to take his mind off his family.

Another example of Yakobi's kindness is when Karl’s little sister Rosa had an accident. On the way back from the hospital Karl sat in a cart beside Yakobi, and complained that he had to be a father and a mother to Rosa. Yakobi said that he was often angry himself, about everything that had happened to them. He told Karl that when he felt like that he played his saxophone. Karl asked if it helped. 'My sax was the only thing I was able to bring with me from home,' said Yakobi. 'But now we have to think about the future, not the past.'

That's why I like Yakobi. He is not selfish and he cares about other people, not just himself. He is different from anyone else.
by Leonid, age 11


I have just finished reading Faraway Home a class novel chosen by our Mr Hanley. There are lots of people in the story that I admired but I really admired Rosa, Karl's sister for being so cute, honest and a caring little child. I liked the way she was always smiling and cheerful, not knowing what was happening to her own family, to all her Jewish neighbours and to Goldi, her beloved dog.

Rosa is very young and she feels unhappy in her new family with the Goulds. She is homesick, even though they are very nice to her. By reading the book, I could understand her loneliness by being taken away from all her family and being transferd to another. I perfectly knew why she threw away the new doll that the Goulds had given her at the start instead of Mitzy, the doll that her parents had given to her back in Vienna.
by Beatrice, age 10


My favourite character would have had to have been Peewee. He was also not at home, like all the other refugees. Peewee seemed to be an easy person to get on with. Fortunately he made some refugee friends. It would have been hard for Karl to learn English without Peewee. He also helped the refugee camp football team with himself and his big brother Wee Billy, who coached the camp team. The first scene where Peewee appeared was with Judy, Karl and the cow. In this scene Judy was chased by the cow which she thought was a bull. I think that this was also the time when Judy started to mature. At this point Peewee, Karl and Judy all became good friends.

Peewee's grandmother began to like Judy. Peewee's mother liked and trusted Karl and Judy. So you see that Peewee's family play a big role in the story.

During the bombing of Belfast Peewee's brother was unfortunately killed. The loss of Wee Billy was an example of the terrible truth of the war. This would have happened to many families in the war.
by Timothy Alkin


Faraway Home is a novel set in the 1930s. Its story revolves around two children, Karl and Rosa Muller from Vienna, and their journey to Ireland. Their family sent them, as they knew the war was imminent. During the long and arduous trip, Karl befriended Eva. She's my favourite character.
A native of Prague, Czechoslovakia, Eva was thirteen, although she was very mature. Rather than dwelling on her own homesickness, she mothered the younger children to distract herself. Her advice was always good and she was a sympathetic listener.

When the refugees are working at Millisle Eva shows she is a loyal and supportive friend to Karl. She helps him when his little sister is injured. When Karl is obviously upset by a letter, bringing sad news of his family, she writes to another friend asking her to help comfort him.
If I was ever in such a situation Eva is the type of friend I would like to encounter.

I recommend this interesting and informative book to readers of all ages. 
by Blaise, age 12


'Karl gazed at the rigid figures of his parents, trying to fix their image forever in his mind.' He was burdened with what seemed to him like the world on his back. His mind was always blazing with 'why's and 'how's.

Inside himself, he was in agony with the anguish of having to grow up so quickly, and the loss of his family. Put on a train to forget the awful blood sky of Kristallnacht, the journey to Belfast with his little sister Rosa just loaded the bombs on his mind.

Running away from the blinding sights and the loneliness of being ostracised, he was about to let go, fall like a bomb, but he always kept a stiff upper lip.

Inside, all his worries were being tossed onto a fire, hoping he would turn into ashes like so many innocent Jewish souls. He really grew up more than he knew. He held on. He never looked down.
by Stephanie, age 12


Pupils' Impressions of Faraway Home

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

The pupils of St Matthew's National School in Sandymount, Dublin, describe their impressions of Faraway Home by Marilyn Taylor.

Faraway Home is a heartbreaking story which describes the feelings, the terror, the shock and the sadness of young Jewish refugees at the time of the Second World War.
Karl Muller and his sister Rosa, along with many other Jewish refugees, are separated from their family when they leave Austria on one of the Kindertransports which were organised to take children to safety.
The refugees are crushed by anger and sadness when they leave their families behind. All they have now is the memory of their friends and the hope of making new ones in Northern Ireland.
The story tells us how friendships can develop even though the children are haunted by the memories of the past.

Andreea Stroiescu Faraway Home is a fantastic book, with very good language and humour. Marilyn Taylor describes her characters in such a way that you feel you know them and you are with them. This is a very interesting book based on fact. It is a sad and touching story and I would recommend it to anyone over the age of nine years old.
Faraway Home is about a family who wants to get out of their country, and travel to safety. Stuck in Vienna without hope, Karl and Rosa manage to escape on a Kindertransport and travel to Northern Ireland, leaving their family behind. Living on a farm and having to cope with the unfamiliar farmyard animals presents a challenge. A friendship develops between the refugees and some of the Dublin children sent up as volunteers to help. Jennifer Byrne

Marilyn Taylor visited our school and told us all about her books. The first book she wrote was called Could This Be Love, I Wondered? and that is the first part of a trilogy. The second is called Could I Love A Stranger? and the final book is Call Yourself A Friend?
Ms. Taylor started off working at a school library, found out what kind of books teenagers liked and then starting writing them. Her advice to young writers is that it's best to write about things you know and to use personal experiences. She also says to start a story by just getting into it instead of giving a description of your characters.
I like Faraway Home because it was interesting and sad. It kept you waiting to turn the pages.

Ashley Fagan

Marilyn Taylor is a superb writer. In our school she read some extracts from some of her other books that she had written -- they're all very gripping stories that every young adult should read. Marilyn is a great woman and she gave us a lot of advice on how to write a story. She told us things that we didn't know about how to write what you know about. It makes you really think what you can achieve in life, especially because she does every good thing that comes her way.
She has done a lot of research on World War II so she could get her book right. She got her husband to drive on the road that is in the book to see how smooth it was. She interviewed people that had lived in Millisle in the war and people sent her their diaries and some photographs. Some people said it was too sad to think back to the war.

Jessica Downes

Why Use A Class Novel?

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

Since the introduction of the Revised Curriculum in 1999, many teachers have begun using a novel with their pupils as well as the more traditional 'reader' or textbook. Some teachers have decided not to use 'readers' at all, choosing instead to use novels with their class. Here two pupils from Stratford National School, who used Marilyn Taylor's novel Faraway Home last term, share their thoughts on the advantages of using class novels:

Reading expands both the imagination and the vocabulary and using a class novel is a brilliant idea for many reasons.
Books on World Wars One and Two are very educational. They tell you how Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and other groups different to the Nazi idea of the 'average person' were treated.
Books on life as a teenager or young person are also very good for use as a class novel. They teach you that you are not alone in the world, whatever your problem may be, even if you feel you can't tell anyone your problem for fear of people making a laughing-stock out of you. This type of story is near-to-life, so you can relate to the characters.
Class novels are a very good idea for less fluent readers or for readers who don't practise much, as reading in class with everyone else is a great way to make you start to read more often. They are also a great way to pick up ideas for essays.
You can also discuss different parts of the story and you can share your points of view and listen to others. Some people may have different points of view to you, but that doesn't mean they’re wrong. Everyone's mind works differently, thinks differently and is perceived differently. Class novels show you that. If the class novel allows you to see other people's point of view, you never know, at the end of the day, you just might agree with them.
by Alex M, age 11

I chose to write this essay about why we should read a class novel because I recently read Marilyn Taylor’s fabulous book Faraway Home in class.
I think we should read a class novel because it encourages people who don't usually read to participate and enjoy, because they might have some chapters to read for homework. We gain such a lot of new knowledge from books and if we get into the habit of reading we can relate to a lot of our other subjects. It also helps you to be able to read out loud and this will improve your speech and pronunciation.
Another reason to read a class novel is if your teacher picks a book on some type of history period such as the Second World War, you and your class will learn a lot more about the history you're studying. For instance, I learned more about Jewish culture and history from Faraway Home than I would have done from just a history book.
Marilyn Taylor has inspired me to become a writer when I grow up. I want to mention that reading Faraway Home was very enjoyable and this book is a credit to Marilyn Taylor and it deserved to win the Bisto overall prize in May 2000.
by Noelle K, age 12


A Writer's Jigsaw

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Aubrey Flegg
Location:  N/A

I heard the clatter of hooves while they were still far away. It was evening, and I was standing in my socks in the doorway of our small house in Ballina, near Killaloe. I had spent the day doing geological study in the hills of Tipperary. I looked up the village street in alarm when I realised that the hooves were coming, not just fast, but very fast. At that moment a cart burst into sight, pulled by a pony at full gallop. The driver, a girl, was standing upright, and leaning back on the reins. She was laughing; hair and skirt were blowing in the wind. In a second they were gone, and the clatter receded into the distance. I think it was then that I said to myself that one day I would write a story about that girl and that her name would be Katie.

I continued with my geology, studying the rocks on both sides of the river Shannon, climbing in and out of the massive slate quarries that open like dark jaws in the sides of the hills and wondering if they wouldn't make a great place for an adventure. On one occasion I thought I was in the middle of a real adventure myself. I saw what appeared to be a body under the broken slates in one of the quarries. It turned out to be an old scarecrow, stuffed with straw.

Time passed and I found myself sitting at a desk rather than walking the hills with my geological hammer. I decided that it would be great to write a story for young people, but what could I write about? My mind is a bit like a jigsaw anyway, so I turned it out on the table to have a look, and to see if I could find any ideas. A single piece caught my eye at once, a brief flash of memory; it was the head of a girl with her hair blowing in the wind. Of course, it was the girl on the cart, and her name was to be Katie. I had a character.

When I was just out of school I trained with a mountain rescue team in Scotland. It was there that I learned the value of a good map. If you're going to climb a mountain you need to know where you are. It is the people who don't know where they are that have to be carried down. I started poking through my jigsaw pieces again. What was that? An old wellington and patched trousers stuffed with straw. My mind raced back, remembering: a deep dark quarry -- a moment of fright. Forget about bodies and scarecrows, but surely this quarry was a place for an adventure. I knew every one of those quarries and had walked in every field. Here was my map, and I could already see Katie's farm in my mind.

So, I had a heroine -- Katie. I knew where the action would take place -- in the quarries near Killaloe. But when did it all happen? I told you that my mind is like a jigsaw. The next clue came from a surprising, and rather sad, source, from a memento that I have on my desk. It's a paperknife -- it's here now -- and it dates from the First World War. My father was just too young to go to fight in the trenches, but his cousin and best friend, Arthur, wasn't. Arthur volunteered and set off for France. We know that he came back on leave once, and I imagine it was then that he had this paperknife made. The handle is made out of an empty cartridge case. It has a mock silver bullet, and a blade shaped like a dagger. When Arthur's leave was over, he went back to the trenches and was killed. Looking at the knife, I started thinking of all the Irish men who went to fight in the trenches. So many were killed, but what about the others, the ones that were wounded or damaged in the mind? What if Katie's father had been one of these? What if he had shell shock, a condition that can afflict people who have had terrible war experiences? Perhaps Katie could help him recover, but what if, in her heart of hearts, she thinks he's mad?

But how would I know what it was like all those years ago?

When I was little, I lived on a farm in County Sligo. Because the Second World War was raging, there was no fuel for tractors and the farm work had to be done with horses. There was also no electricity in the house, so we used candles and oil lamps. In fact, because of the war, my childhood was quite like what it would have been at the time when Katie's father came back from the trenches. It was easy for me to imagine Katie sitting, doing her homework in a pool of light from an oil lamp in the kitchen, when Father's hand comes out of the dark and rests gently on her arm. I knew what it was like to cart hay in summer, and how a hay float worked. And there were other things I could remember too, like the pinging sound that milk makes when it is squirted into a pail by hand. We would sometimes kneel down beside the cow and Peter the cowman would squirt a jet of warm milk into our mouths. In fact most of it went down our necks. It was all terribly unhygienic!

I began to realise that stories are not just made of big things; little things too can be terribly important. The tick of a clock makes everything else seem silent; the sight of a mouse feeding by moonlight makes us fearful for its safety; the scrunch of nailed boots takes us back to the time when farmer's boots were nailed. So, by remembering my childhood, I had a store of small, but real, things to use.

I still had one big problem, however. I went to secondary school in England, and because of this found that I knew nothing about Irish history. What, for example, was happening in Ireland when Father would have been recovering from his shell shock? I now realised that if I was to get any further with my jigsaw, I would have to start turning over the pieces that were still upside down. I would have to do some research. I started to read about Irish history, from the time when Father, influenced by John Redmond, would have gone off to the war. I learned that these men didn't go to fight for king and country, but in the belief that they were fighting for the freedom of small nations like Belgium. I read about the uprising in 1916, and the War of Independence that followed. Then in 1922, the Treaty was signed, and our dreadful Civil War began. By this time I recognised that Katie was someone special. This war was a war that never should have happened -- with Irish fighting Irish. How would Katie cope with a divided family?

People have asked me why I made Katie take a neutral position, why did I leave it to a girl (albeit helped by Daffyd and Kieran) to attempt to stop the war? The reason for this is that I believe that girls of Katie's age are more mature than boys are. Patriotism and fighting for ideals are the stuff of adolescent boys. At Seamus's age, I would have drunk up his talk of traitors, and of dying for Ireland. Unfortunately, some men never grow out of adolescence, and Seamus's outburst at dinner is, almost word-for-word, from a Republican writer of the time. (see pages 37-38.)

There is a lovely word: serendipity. Not only does it sound nice, but it has a nice meaning too -- it means a happy accident. When writing, one knows that things are going well when one finds that happy accidents are beginning to happen. My period of serendipity began when I went down to Nenagh, Katie's nearest town, and was allowed to look through the precious back issues of the Nenagh Guardian. Sitting in an upstairs room, I found myself reading an account by a reporter, possibly writing in the very room I was in, describing the sound of gunfire in the street outside. I looked at the date: 1 July 1922. Here was all the action I needed -- trees cut down, trenches across the road, railway lines and telegraph wires cut, no news of any kind getting to the outside world. Soon I had a rich haul, including the rhyme to the farmer who had just had his chickens stolen. (see page 110.)

A final word about characters: Some are planned in detail, like Katie and Father, for example. Some just grow: Seamus was one, Dafydd another. To begin with, I just wanted Dafydd there so that I could have someone who wasn't Irish looking on, but then he began to take over the book, and I think he brought out the best in Katie. Then there was Breege, who suddenly appeared on washday without my realising it. It doesn't often happen, but when it does it is the finest feeling in the world -- when your characters take over and start writing their own stories for you. Call it serendipity.

Pupils' impressions of The Johnny Coffin Diaries by John W Sexton

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: John Sexton
Location:  N/A

The Johnny Coffin Diaries is the funniest book I have read ever. Johnny Coghlan is in a school and everyone in his class is called Murphy except him and Blister. There's Monkey Murphy, Murphy-Murphy, Manky Murphy and lots of other Murphys. The teacher's name is Mr McCluskey and he is not a very good teacher, he doesn't like teaching much and he gives the kids stupid things for homework and makes them do long essays and lines. He doesn't ever understand the kids and they make fun of him all the time, even though they do like him.

In The Johnny Coffin Diaries they have a band, it's called the Dead Crocodiles. Johnny is the drummer, Jimmy Pats Murphy is the guitarist but he's not very good, there's Blister O'Flynn who plays the bass guitar and that's all that's in the band. Johnny's girlfriend has a pet crocodile, her name is Enya and she's very scary. Some bits of the book are very funny and some are disgusting.

Johnny looks like a vampire because he has very very pale skin and black hair. Our teacher made a crocodile and the whole class helped to make it. We painted the crocodile green and we got egg shells and glue and painted over the whole thing. Some of us made guitars shaped like crocodiles as well. We brought them all to the opening of Children's Book Festival in the Hugh Lane Gallery and some of us wore Johnny Coffin T-shirts that we won in a prize. The author of Johnny Coffin wasn't there at the party and we were all sad because we want to meet him. I think John Sexton is a great author and I can't wait for his next book.

Gavin K, age 10
Robert S, age 9
Scoil Plás Mhuire, Dorset Street, Dublin 7

Children from Scoil Plás Mhuire, Dorset Street, Dublin 7, with their giant crocodile, at the launch of Bookfest 2001.
Colman, age 12, from Stratford National School, Dublin 6, being interviewed by Gemma Hill for Rattlebag, RTÉ Radio 1, about his impressions of The Johnny Coffin Diaries.
Children from Stratford National School, Dublin 6, at the launch of The Johnny Coffin Diaries.

Genesis of a First Novel

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Frank Murphy
Location:  N/A

If you want to write something, why not try a story for children? It must be about the easiest thing imaginable, especially for teachers and ex-teachers. They are in touch with children's literature to a greater or lesser degree for a large part of their lives. They read children's stories to themselves so that they can talk about them to their pupils. And they read stories to children for all the good reasons there are for reading to children.

If you have a sneaking suspicion that writing for children is easier than trying to follow the devious contours of adult minds in adult novels, suppress it. A novel for children has its own set of norms, and they are just as difficult to observe as are those of any other work of fiction. The best way of making this point may be to tell you of the genesis of my first attempt at the genre.

Once I had decided to try my hand, I felt I had to know what experts had to say about fiction for young people. Quite a bit has been written about it, so it was not difficult to find recipes and lists of what were called 'essentials' of stories for children. One such list gave the following:

  1. A strong and convincing plot with clear lines of development, and which relate to experience that children can recognise.
  2. Plenty of action.
  3. A clear and definite point.
  4. Credible relationships.
  5. Believable characters.
  6. Characters that children can identify with, especially ones who behave as they might like to rather than as they actually do.
  7. Some relevance to children's inner world of imagination and make-believe.
  8. Humour of a rather basic and earthy kind.
  9. Sometimes sadness and pathos.
  10. The story should be direct and exciting and relevant to children's interests.
  11. The story should be possible to interpret at a number of different levels, so that children can return to the book and find something new to enjoy.
  12. It must be well written, i.e. language vivid and original yet accessible and easy to read.

All of those, with the exception of (k), are fairly obvious, though they require careful attention and are difficult enough to achieve. They may be taken for granted.

The one marked (k) bore out something which had struck me forcibly when reading other essays. I had noticed that people who commented on children's literature hinted at a distinction between stories which had little to recommend them other than a lively anecdote, and stories that operated at deeper levels. Enid Blyton was a prime target for vilification. Writers who elaborated on the notion of deeper levels mentioned things like dealing with important issues, or making a serious point, or teasing out the complex relationships between the characters.

I wanted to be serious about writing for children, so I had to work out what kind of important issues or serious points or interactions between characters gave stories the greater depth that made them better stories.

I wondered if the criteria for children's stories were vastly different from those applied to adult fiction? Children’s stories are different of course, but if there is a basic aesthetic principle that should be applied to fiction, why should it not, making all due allowances, be applied to all genres of fiction -- novel, novella, short story, drama, film, or anything that involved a story of imaginary characters in an imaginary world acting out their roles in imaginary situations. If there were such a principle, could it not be applied in a suitable way to children's fiction too?

I recalled that Seán Ó Faoláin had addressed the basic question of theme in fiction in his book on the short story. I found two brief passages that I had underlined when I first read his book many years ago.

... we can read a story by a master like Chekhov or Henry James over and over again, where every turn is playing on the great instrument on which all stories worthy of the name, long or short, must play -- the instrument of human nature -- so various, so complex, so contradictory, so subtle, so amusing and so unexpected.

Fine words, but nothing too specific. The story must show something about human nature, never mind that human nature is various, complex and all the other things he said about it. The basic idea was that the stories must play on the instrument of human nature. Was that just a nice way of saying that the stories had to be about people? All stories with people in them deal, in one way or another, with human nature. But, of course, Ó Faoláin had something deeper than that in mind.

I had underlined another piece:

I think it is safe to say that unless a story makes this subtle comment on human nature, on the permanent relationships between people, their variety, their expectedness, and their unexpectedness, it is not a short story in any modern sense.

The word permanent in that excerpt gave me food for thought. Any story has a plot, I concluded, a resolution of some dilemma set up at the beginning. But stories which rely on plot alone are easily forgotten. In the best stories a deeper theme, hinting at something universal, permanent, and true about human affairs, is present. Often it is scarcely perceptible. Children who read such stories just for the excitement of being caught up in the tide of events will do so without being conscious of those deeper elements, but if those elements are present, the story may have that extra weight and gravity which could raise it above mere anecdote, and make it linger in the memory.

There was nothing remarkable about my line of thinking of course, no great road-to-Damascus light blinding me. Many people who take children's literature seriously have known that for aeons.

But I was certain then that I knew what was required in a novel for children. All that remained to do was to sit down and write it. That turned out to be the hard part. It was more than hard. I found it impossible. Several abortive attempts were consigned to the waste-paper basket. All my efforts to be profound were falling flat.

For eventually getting it done I am indebted to a friend who said, 'Can't you forget your old theory and spin a yarn that young people might enjoy. If you have something to say about human life, it will come out in your story.'

Lockie and Dadge was begun. I tried to write it without thinking of principle or theory. I just thought up a tale to tell. Without conscious effort I got locked into the characters. I was getting inside their heads, hearing their voices, feeling their anger and their joy, their hopes and despair. I believed I had at last come to grips with the task. I can’t pass judgement on the finished product of course, but the comments of reviewers, though brief, in articles that attempted to review a wide range of books at once, were encouraging for the most part.

Writers differ. They have different preoccupations and different approaches to what they do. With hindsight, if I were asked to define my priorities in writing fiction, I think it would be a sine qua non that the characters should be comprehensively conceived -- their physical presence, their circumstances, their feelings and their attitudes. I came to the belief that if that is done, they will act and react consistently and typically in the situations of the story. In saying or doing what they do, they will make a statement as representatives of their personality and of their class. There is no need, therefore, to strive to make a point. The characters will do it for you.

Having completed the book, I felt obliged to apply the litmus test of my own ambitions for it. I searched through it to see if, in fact, I had made a statement, either directly or by implication, about human living. Were there little pearls of wisdom obliquely stated or barely concealed in the narrative?

I think I may have made some of these points about human society:

  • It is unlikely that a set of inflexible rules will cover every situation.
  • Human sympathy doesn't need plausible reasons.
  • People who belong to the great huckster tradition act exclusively with an eye to profit.
  • People are duped by advertising into the culture of consumerism. There can be better.
  • We treat our derelicts abominably.
  • It is pointless trying to buck authority.
  • Acting solely on principle can lack that little touch of humanity that can be very important in a child's life.

There may have been something there about friendship and compassion too, but, as I have said, I didn't set out to make any of those points. They never entered my head as I wrote.

It has been said too that many of the characters are eccentric. I have been asked why. The eccentrics are all based on characters from life, changed of course because people straight out of life do not always fit conveniently into the scheme of a novel.

All my 'eccentrics' are people who live on the edge of society, people who do not conform to the fashions of orthodoxy. The freedom of such people has always fascinated me. They are free from the obligation to live according to the unwritten laws of polite society.

This freedom has its downside too. Clashes inevitably occur between the demands of freedom and the rigour of propriety. But the great fascination of their freedom is that they are free from the demands of any creed or political philosophy to think in any particular way. They are free to think for themselves, to criticise the laws and mores of the ones in charge, as one of the characters describes the people in authority.

We would all like to kick over the traces from time to time, and we can envy these eccentrics who do just that. The great difference between the way they treat the main character, Lockie, and the way he is treated by the orthodox members of society is that the beatniks take Lockie as they find him, while the others have an evangelical zeal to make him match their own blueprint. Lockie is a free spirit too, and it is logical that he would gravitate towards the eccentrics.

If I am not deluding myself, and those themes are present in the book, the question arises as to how they crept into it without being mentioned explicitly? I can only attribute it to character, what the characters say and do, how they react to situations and people. That it should be so is perhaps a truism, but one that can be easily ignored in the convulsion of story making.

Making witches' hats

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Mary Carroll
Location:  N/A

Children from second and third classes, Scoil Plás Mhuire, Dorset Street, Dublin 7, make witches' hats with Mary Carroll from the Pine Forest Arts Centre, in the ILAC Centre Library, during Children's Book Festival 2001.

PineForest2PineForest3We went to the ILAC Centre. We met Mary Carroll who runs the Pine Forest Arts Centre with another woman. She is an artist and she writes books about art and craft. She showed us how to make witches' hats. First she cut out semi-circles and then we made a cone shapes and stuck gold and silver stars on them. We cut out bats from black paper and put wire on at the back and stuck that to the top of the hat. We had a really good time with Mary.
Alexei K, age 7

PineForest1 Mary Carroll made pointy black witch hats with us in the ILAC Centre library. It was Book Week. We stuck loads of decorations on the hats. She was fun.
Gary K, age 7
PineForest4 When it was Book Week we went to a library and Mary Carroll was there. She helped us to make Hallowe'en hats out of black paper and lots of coloured shapes. She was very nice. She has an art and craft centre in the mountains.
Martin M, age 9

Biddy Blatherskate interviews author Annette Kelleher

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Annette Kelleher
Location:  N/A

*Warning! The following material may be unsuitable for adult viewing. Children with fertile imaginations are welcome.

ANNETTE: It's a bit unusual, you know, for a writer to be interviewed by a fictional character, isn't it?
BIDDY: I suppose it is, but we're practically related, you being adopted by the leprechauns and all.
ANNETTE: That's true! So what would you like to know about me, Biddy?
BIDDY: To tell the truth, I've got a bit of a bone to pick with you and I think I'd feel better if we got that out of the way first.
ANNETTE: I'm not really that partial to bones, but I'll take it home to my dog if you like.
BIDDY: It's not that kind of bone, it's my nose, actually.
ANNETTE: Really? My dog has never eaten a nose before, so I'm not quite sure how he'd take to it. Besides, if I wanted to feed him noses I'd probably start with a smaller model ... no offence or anything.
BIDDY: Exactly! Why did you lumber me with such awful features? You could have made me the prettiest leprechaun in the world and instead you made me ugly. Explain yourself!
ANNETTE: Well, you see, Biddy, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It's like when you meet a person who has had an accident or lost a leg you tend to stare at those unusual bits. Then, after a while, you don't see the abnormalities any more, you only see the beautiful person under the skin.
BIDDY: My grandfather once had a dead leg and he hopped all around the kitchen looking for it until my grandmother hit it with her walking stick, then he knew where it was all right. But what has all this got to do with making me an ugly character?
ANNETTE: Well, it's a long story, do you have time to hear it?
BIDDY: More time than you'll ever have, go on.
ANNETTE: I actually wrote the original story about a leprechaun called Seamus.
BIDDY: You didn't. That scut! He's a grubby little devil. Do you know what he does?
ANNETTE: I have a feeling that I couldn't stop you from telling me even if I tried.
BIDDY: He eats worms. Imagine that?
ANNETTE: I'm trying hard not to imagine it. Anyway, getting back to your question, I was writing away quite happily with this Seamus character until I realised that I'd never ever read a story about female leprechauns. This was quite a shock to me. I sat back and thought very hard about the situation, and I decided there and then that this awful injustice had to be put right. I had to present a female leprechaun to the world, someone very special, someone who would be unusual enough for the reader to stare at, to be interested in right up to the last page and beyond. That someone was you, Biddy. As soon as you arrived on the page the story came alive. You are unusual, that's for sure.
BIDDY: Well, obviously. Now tell me about yourself. You were born in Kenmare.
ANNETTE: That's right! I was born on the same day as Smith Cronin's donkey and he never allowed me to forget it.
BIDDY: The donkey?
ANNETTE: No, you eejit, the smith. Every time he saw me he rubbed his grimy hands together and told people that I was a twin to his donkey. It was very embarrassing.
BIDDY: But you wouldn't see the smith that often, would you?
ANNETTE: Well, to tell the truth there was something fascinating about his forge. It was very dark in there and incredibly dirty, but the smell of the fire and the singed pong of horses' hooves delighted me. I spent a lot of time in there pumping the bellows while the smith made horseshoes. If my family was looking for me they always checked the forge first.
BIDDY: What kind of child were you?
ANNETTE: The usual kind ... wobbly head, shapeless body, kicking legs, flailing arms, snotty nose ...
BIDDY: I don't need a physical description, I'm looking at you and that's enough. I mean what were you like as a person?
ANNETTE: I was a shy tomboy. If I wasn't at the forge, I was at the top of a tall tree. One of the nuns who taught me once described me as docile and after that I always thought of myself as a cow with big brown eyes looking over a fence and chewing the cud.
BIDDY: I've chewed the cud. Once when my mother went on strike, my father said that we would have to eat grass and I took him at his word. It was all right, quite juicy, but after a few days I started to flick my tongue into my nostrils, you know the way cows do. At that point my mother gave in and fed me again because she didn't want the neighbours talking about us. Have you ever eaten grass yourself?
ANNETTE: I have, actually. I grew some wheat grass and chewed it. The juice is really good for sick people.
BIDDY: You'd have to be pretty sick to drink something like that. Do you know that when I wouldn't take my medicine, my mother used to hold my nose until I had to open my mouth for air, then she would plunge the spoon into my mouth, don't you hate that?
ANNETTE: Yes! My grandmother used to do the very same thing to us, she used to dose us with castor oil. Ughhh!
BIDDY: You had three brothers and one sister, didn't you?
ANNETTE: That's right. I was piggy in the middle. You don't have any brothers or sisters, do you, Biddy?
BIDDY: No! My mother said she got more than she bargained for when I was born and that she wasn't a glutton for punishment. I wouldn't have minded a brother though, because he would have had to look after the rotten gold and I could have been useless and free.
ANNETTE: Biddy, what's wrong? Your nose has turned pale blue.
BIDDY: I've just remembered that I left my father's gold in one of those artificial pot plants outside. You don't think anyone would find it there, do you?
ANNETTE: Some people pry into all sorts of places, especially kids and dogs. Perhaps you should go and get it.
BIDDY: I will! Thanks for the interview. To tell the truth, your life sounds a bit boring, but we might talk again some other time.
ANNETTE: No worries! I can't wait! I must be going now too. I have other characters to look after, you know, and other stories to write.
BIDDY: I hope you're not going to tell any more tales about me. I was very embarrassed when you told the world that I'd lost my father's gold, and I didn't enjoy my trip to Australia either.
ANNETTE: I think I might tell people about the time you gave away your grandmother's shawl and ended up in lots of trouble. That would make a good story.
BIDDY: You scut! You wouldn't ... would you?
ANNETTE: You'll just have to wait and see!

*Note. This interview was conducted by Biddy Blatherskate, for The O'Brien Press, in appreciation for their part in the publication of Leprechaun on the Loose.

The F.L.E.M (Female Leprechaun Emancipation Movement) would also like to thank the publishers for helping to lift the profile of the female leprechaun.

Interesting children may contact Biddy at biddyblatherskate@hotmail.com


Inventing Mad Grandad

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Oisín McGann
Location:  N/A

Mad Grandad was an accident. I was just looking for some illustration work. I went to O'Brien Press last year and showed them the kinds of artwork I could do, and they said one of the styles I worked in was just right for their Flyer series. They didn't have any new stories for the Flyers just then, but they were looking for writers who could come up with books for the series. I wanted the work, so I figured if they didn't have a book for me to illustrate, I'd make one.

And so Mad Grandad was born. I came up with two ideas; the first was when I imagined finding an ad in the newspaper for a second-hand flying saucer. That meant I could invent aliens and spaceships - so that was exactly what I did. The other idea, 'Robot Garden 'started off as a title, and then it was easy to come up the story, once I had this image of rampaging robot flowers in my head.

When I was young, I read stuff by authors like Roald Dahl, and I hoped to come up with the same kind of weird and zany books. As an illustrator, I wanted to come up with stories that would be fun to draw as well as write, and I knew young readers would spend nearly as much time looking at the pictures as they did reading the words, so I wanted to give them images that would tickle them. The stories gave me plenty of room to make up lots of odd creatures and machines, and I wanted to draw them in a style that would be quite detailed, because it would let me stick in lots of interesting things in the backgrounds. I also wanted the drawings to be rough and scratchy, because I think it makes things look a little madder.

To fit the storylines, I wanted a character who wouldn't be too bothered by all the weirdness that happens to him, and he obviously had to be interesting too… so I came up with a nutty old man. Old people normally seem a bit strange to children; the difference in age between grandparents and their grandchildren is so great, some old folk must seem to kids as if they're from another world. Mad Grandad's not based on any one person, but there a lot of old lads who have given me ideas. His thick glasses, big ears and huge, bristly nose, and the way his trousers are up around his chest, are all things I’ve seen in the old men I've known. Like every grandad, he has plenty of stories to tell, and because he's old, it takes a lot to surprise him. Despite being a bit mad, he's no fool, is Grandad.

The other character, Lenny, is his six-year-old grandson, who thinks his grandad is far more interesting than any normal adult. Lenny is the one who tells the story, because he is the more sensible one, in fact sometimes it's like he is the grown-up and Grandad is the child. Like any boy, Lenny likes playing football and computer games, or breaking his toys by driving them off cliffs or crashing them into each other. But for him, there's nothing like going over to Grandad's house to play. Because with Mad Grandad around, you just never know what’s going to happen.

Eight week residency in a Dublin school

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Oisín McGann
Location:  N/A

Oisín Mc Gann, author/illustrator of the very successful Mad Grandad books for newly independent readers, has been working with children in a north inner city school. The eight-week residency, part-funded by Poetry Ireland under the Writers in Schools scheme, gave the children the opportunity to participate actively in the planning and development of their own stories and illustrations, with practical advice, help and encouragement from Oisín. The stories and illustrations were exhibited in Dublin's Central Library in mid-April. Visitors to the library, including storytellers from America, got a chance to read the work.

For details on how to apply for a author visit to your school, contact Jane O'Hanlon, Education Officer, Poetry Ireland, 123 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2 or tel 01-478 9974

Where did the idea for Epic come from?

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Conor Kostick
Location:  N/A

The growth of online gaming is extraordinary. In the Far East four million people subscribe to one game alone. In the US the two most popular online fantasy games have over 500,000 and 400,000 players respectively. And inevitably these huge virtual communities are having an impact on the real world, as players barter their powerful weapons, magic items, properties and even their long cherished characters themselves. One economist recently evaluated the entire real dollar activity of these virtual creations as being larger than the GNP of Bulgaria.

So the idea for Epic came about from wondering, what would it be like to live in a world entirely dominated by one game; where every human being had to log into the game and their wealth, their political voice, their future, was shaped by how well they were doing in the game? What would happen to those who became the games most powerful players, and thus the most wealth and powerful people in the world? Would they start to dominate the proceedings and protect themselves from challenges? And if you were born poor and had to make your way through the game from scratch, what chance would you have?

The issue of landmines in ex-warzones

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Aubrey Flegg
Location:  N/A

Aubrey feels very strongly about the issue of landmines in ex-warzones throughout the world, and wrote The Cinnamon Tree to help focus attention on this issue.


The Cinnamon Tree is a novel set in Africa. When Yola steps on a landmine, her little cousin Gabbin saves her life, but otherwise her future is bleak. Who will pay a bride-price for a girl with only one leg, who cannot work or carry loads, and who cannot even get to school? Soon, trouble with one of her three mothers, makes life intolerable. Befriended by Hans, leader of a demining team, she comes to Ireland to be fitted with a new leg. Here she meets Fintan whose father has a business project in Africa.

Back in Africa, she is given a job with Hans's demining group teaching mines awareness and learning as much as she can about demining. When Fintan turns up unexpectedly in Yola's home town, they realise they are involved in an international arms deal in which Fintan's father is implicated. As Yola prepares for her final test - to rescue her little cousin Gabbin, who has been taken as a child soldier - only Sailor, a dog trained to sniff out landmines, can show them the way.


There is a cinnamon tree, and there was a landmine under it. I could see the rim of it sticking out through the red earth before Vincent, an Angolan deminer, sent me away so that he could lift it and make it safe.

In 1998 I travelled to Angola, inspired by Princess Diana, who had chosen to wake the world to the evil of landmines by visiting this, the landmines capital of the world. I wanted to write this book, but first I needed to meet the victims, and see how landmines were being found and dealt with. Angola has been at war for thirty-eight years, first a war of independence from Portugal, and after that twenty-four years of civil war. During this time ten million landmines have been laid there, most of which are still in the ground. Over 70,000 people have lost their limbs, and many, particularly children, have died.

But Kasemba is not Angola. You will not find it on the map of Africa, nor will you find a Yola or a Gabbin quite as I describe them. Nevertheless, much of what I have told in The Cinnamon Tree is real.

While I was in Angola I was looked after by a wonderful organisation called Norwegian People's Aid. In The Cinnamon Tree, when Yola travels from Nopani to Simbada, I am describing a trip very like my own to Luanda, the capital of Angola, to Lobito where Norwegian People's Aid have their field-station. It was there that I saw dogs being trained to sniff out mines. I watched a beautiful German Shepherd, looping left and right just as Sailor did for Yola on her night-time expedition, his tail waving with excitement. Then he sank to the ground, his Angolan handler marked the spot, and a supervisor came with a spade and carefully dug up a large practice mine.

Later, I was taken to the little town of Gabela where I saw a live mine clearance in operation. There was a hill, and a Russian tank just like the one Gabbin was playing in when he lost Managu the bull, but there were no boys near the tank while I was there. Discipline was tight. The Angolan deminers worked in pairs, each pair fifty metres apart in case of accidents. Only a week before, a deminer had been injured when he accidentally pulled a trip-wire attached to a hand-grenade in the bushes. Vincent, the supervisor, showed me a stake marking the place where they had recently found a landmine. Beside the spot was a bent stick with a piece of string attached. It was a bird trap, set by a local boy while the mine was still in the ground. When he knelt to set his trap he was only centimetres away from the mine. Later that day Vincent called me over to look at a mine they had uncovered under a tree. He pointed out how it had been put there so that anyone trying to climb the tree would step on it, a soldier or a sniper perhaps, or even a girl like Yola. He took his knife out and broke off a piece of the bark, smiling as he asked me to smell it. Yes, the smell was cinnamon.

For Yola's family-life I turned to the people that I had lived among for a year on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. Here important men, like Yola's father, often had several wives. By giving a good bride-price for a new young bride, the wealthy man could help a neighbour and, at the same time, get welcome help for his senior wife. Often this worked well, even for the young bride. She moved, perhaps from being a drudge at home, to being the wife of an important man with both status and security. If there were problems it was Senior Mother who kept the peace. In Africa, age and wisdom are respected. Any man of importance is expected to show wisdom and judgement. Father, with his almost telepathic understanding of people, is a portrait of a wise Kenyan I knew.

How is it then that wise and gentle people find themselves locked in war? One of the reasons is that unscrupulous people make money out of selling arms. In The Cinnamon Tree Mr Birthistle represents the underbelly of the arms trade, people who sell guns and ammunition to anyone who is prepared to pay for them. But arms dealers are not the only offenders. Both governments and arms manufacturers make the money to develop their Star Wars weapons by selling armaments. We are revolted at the thought of germ warfare but rifles, like germs, spread the disease of war.

Some guns are now so light that children can handle them. Gabbin, at age eleven, could easily strip, clean and fire a Kalashnikov rifle. It looks like a toy, and weighs only 4.3 kilos, but yet it is capable of firing 600 bullets a minute.

Every day children in war-torn countries are taken from their families and taught to fight. There is nothing romantic about this. Children are often given a choice: kill your own parents, or you'll be killed yourself. If they do this they are so devastated by guilt and grief that they can be made to believe or do anything. Crazed children, persuaded that they are invincible, are forced to lead attacks or to walk through minefields.

The Cinnamon Tree is about courage and happiness. If you would like to learn more, or do something about some of the issues raised in this book, these websites will give you accurate information:

  1. 1. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines http://www.icbl.org is a network of organisations working for a Global Ban on Landmines. I was shown landmine clearance in Angola by Norwegian People's Aid http://www.npaid.no; similar work is being done by MAG http://www.magclearsmines.org who are based in Manchester in the UK. Both clear and destroy landsmines and other unexploded weapons as well as assisting the victims.
  2. 2. You might be interested in raising money for mine clearance. Adopt-A-Minefield is a wonderful scheme where large and small donations are collected to clear specific minefields. You can find out about the minefield you have adopted, see how the clearance is going, and how the people who were affected are getting back to normal lives http://www.landmines.org.
  3. 3. Perhaps you are interested in campaigning against the use of children as child soldiers. There are as many as 300, 000 children under the age of 18 serving in government forces or armed rebel groups. Some are as young as 8 years old. You can learn about these from Human Rights Watch http://hrw.org./campaigns/crp/index.htm. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers http://www.child-soldiers.org works to prevent the use of children as soldiers. In my story Gabbin is lucky because he has a family to go back to. Most child soldiers find that nobody wants them when they give up their guns.
  4. 4. There is a very important campaign starting now to stop countries manufacturing arms and selling them to just anyone who will buy them. You can find out about The Campaign Against The Arms Trade at http://www.realworld.org.uk/index.html.

Student work based on Mad Grandad books

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Oisín McGann
Location:  N/A

When Oisín McGann visited Ss. John Fisher And Thomas More school in Manchester, he was delighted to see all the preparation that had been done by the students for his trip: here is a panel of their work, based on his Mad Grandad books.

Monsters Clink! Collaborative writing with a student

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Oisín McGann
Location:  N/A

Oisín McGann (author) and Robbie Kenny (student) write and illustrate a story together, based on a breakout in a monster's prison: Monsters' Clink. This was a shared project for an entire class: Oisí developed a story framework with the class. He then illustrated parts of it, and wrote parts, while leaving gaps for the students to fill in themselves. He then helped them to complete the story -- at the end of it all, each student had their very own book, which they had helped to develop themselves!

So here it is: Monsters Clink, by Oisín and Robbie.

Oisín answers questions from St Teresa's school

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Oisín McGann
Location:  N/A

I'm delighted that you enjoyed Mad Grandad's Flying Saucer, and it's great to hear that it got you all writing and drawing your own ideas. That was how I started off doing my stories. Hopefully, some of you will create books of your own in the future.

As for your questions:

1. How did you think of the story?
I had the idea for the story when I was thinking of odd things you might find in the small ads in the newspapers; you often seen televisions, or cars, or computers, but never a flying saucer.

2. Is this the best book you think you have written?
I never think of any of my books as 'the best'. I like all the books I've written for different reasons. Some are for older readers, but I liked doing the Flyers because I got to draw some weird stuff, as well as just writing. My favourite book is always the next one I'm going to write.

3. Why did you write the book?
I actually wrote the book, along with Mad Grandad's Robot Garden, because I wanted some illustration work. The O'Brien Press liked my drawings, but didn't have any books for me to illustrate. I really wanted the work, so I wrote some.

4. Who was your favourite character to write about?
Mad Grandad is fun to write about, but I have characters in my other books who I like too. I suppose it depends on what mood I'm in.

5. Was that your first book?
The two Mad Grandad books were my first for younger readers, I have a novel out too -- for ten-year-olds and upwards -- called 'The Gods And Their Machines', and another two coming out in the next year or so. The first book I actually wrote is called The Harvest Tide Project, and will be out in the autumn. I wrote it a few years ago.

6. Is it based on any real people?
I haven't written anything about real people, but I think any character I create is influenced by people I've known. Lenny is a pretty typical kid with a colourful imagination, and I've known a few old lads who have helped create Mad Grandad (but they don't know it).

7. What was your favourite part of the whole story?
My favourite part of the story is probably where the Collectors are closing in on them -- it was the most thrilling bit, and it was fun to draw.

8. How many stories have you written since you started?
Since I decided to put all my efforts into writing, I've done four Mad Grandad books for younger readers, two of which have been published so far. I've written three novels altogether, The Harvest Tide Project, The Gods And Their Machines, and Under Fragile Stone. I'm just finishing another novel at the moment, and I'm aching to start on the next one. But I suppose eight altogether. Apart from those, I've done loads of short stories that haven't been published anywhere. That's how you practice writing.

9. How long did it take you to write the story?
From the start of the idea for Flying Saucer, to the finished text only took a few days. There was a bit of editing -- that's where other people check it to make sure it reads okay -- but that didn't take long. It took over a month to illustrate.

10. Where did you learn to draw the pictures?
I've been drawing pictures for my stories since I started writing, I went to art college for a couple of years, and now I work as an illustrator. But really, it's about drawing all the time until you become good at it. You also have to look around you a lot; studying people and objects and figuring out how things work.

11. How did you come up with the names?
Sometimes the names just come to me. 'Splud' was the first thing I thought up when I needed a name for the alien graffiti artist. 'Vamox' just sounded like a real 1950's science fiction name, the kind of person who would have a flying saucer, and so I made her 'Mrs Vamox' because she was an old lady. But sometimes, I have to write out lists of words until I find the right one.

12. How long did it take to make the book once the story was written?
After the book was written, it had to be laid out -- where all the text is put on the right-sized pages in the right kind of type -- and then it took a month to illustrate, and then the publisher had to get a lot of other books finished before it, so it was in a queue. The same went for Robot Garden. They were both finally printed and sent to the shops about nine or ten months after I wrote them.

13. How many people have bought the book?
I don't know how many people have bought it yet -- it has been out less than a year -- but it seems to be doing well. Whenever I visit a library or school, I get a great reaction from the kids, and some of them can even quote me lines from the book before I've read it to them!

14. Why was it about space?
It was about space because it gave me an excuse to write about -- and draw -- aliens and flying saucers and all sorts of weird machines.

15. Have you any more ideas in your head about space?
I have LOADS of ideas in my head about space. The trick is getting somebody to publish them if I write them.

16. Who inspired you to write this book?
My Mum and Dad inspired me to do most of the things in my life. But there are lots of people who have given me an extra push along the way.

17. Would you like to visit space yourself?
I would love to visit space. And maybe it will be possible years from now, when you don't have to devote your whole life to getting there. I decided when I was young that I had a better chance of being writer and illustrator, and that sounded like a pretty good deal. For the forseeable future, I’ll just have to rely on my imagination to get me into space ...

18. What would you be if you weren't an author?
If I wasn't an author, I'd be a ... oh, I don't know. A film director or storyboarder, or a special effects guy, maybe, or a zoologist (studying animals), or a carpenter, or a pilot, or an explorer, or a geographer (studying the Earth), or a doctor, or a rally driver, or a fireman, or ... There's too many interesting jobs out there. I couldn't choose just one. 19. Did you ever dream of being an astronaut yourself?
Yes, I absolutely dreamed of being an astronaut myself. When I was in primary school, my nickname was 'Spaceman'. That will tell you where I spent most of my daydreams ... when I wasn't fighting dragons and sea monsters, driving tanks, or submarines, or rocket cars, or saving the world some other way.

20. What grade yould YOU give your story out of ten?!
I never grade my own stories, it wouldn't be right! And it's much more interesting to hear what other people think of them.

That was a lot of questions! I hope the answers will give you all something to talk about and I’m sure you’ll all go on to write and draw more of your own stories. Thanks very much for your letter, and for taking such an interest in the book, it really means a lot. I wish you all the best of luck for the future.

Ten Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Computer Games

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Oisín McGann
Location:  N/A

10: Reading a book doesn't make you swerve from side to side like an eejit.

9: You have to keep paying to upgrade your computer so you can play the latest games. But if you keep reading, your brain upgrades for free.

8: Reading a book doesn't give you sore thumbs.

7: You can read a whole book without having to reload your gun once.

6: A book works without batteries, or a power cable ... And so does your brain. Although adults sometimes need coffee.

5. When you're reading a book, the only annoying sound effects are the ones you make yourself.

4: If you talk about books, grown-ups will think you're intelligent, even when you're not. And believe me, I should know.

3: When you've finally finished reading a high-level book, you don't have to start all over again with a really simple one.

2: The great writer, Roald Dahl, once said that the funniest thing in the world is hearing an adult fart. No computer game has ever made me laugh that hard.

And the number one reason why books are better than computer games is: You can scratch a book, drop it on the floor, kick it out the window, drive a car over it and have your baby sister spit chewed up Weetabix all over it and it'll still work.

Although your friends might not want to borrow it anymore.

And the reason it'll still work is that the most important parts of any book that you'll read are inside your head. And your imagination is smarter, funnier, scarier, more colourful and more thrilling than any computer will ever be. And if you keep reading, it'll stay that way for life.

Conor Kostick answers questions about Epic

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Conor Kostick
Location:  N/A

Conor answers a range of questions from Oetinger, the German language publisher of Epic.

  1. Where did the idea for Epic come from?

    Please do take the answer from the O'Brien website.

  2. The idea of Epic -- that all arguments must be dealt with in a computer game with real life going by without the impact of violence -- seems to be good. Why does Epic fail in the long run nevertheless.

    I agree, the resolution of conflict in a virtual place is a wonderful idea. Imagine, no more casualties from wars. Unfortunately though, the virtual arena that the people of New Earth have adapted for the purpose was designed as a game, not as a way of mediating conflict. There are several fault lines as a result: over time a small elite become wealthier and more powerful within the game; more and more time is spent playing the game by society as a whole, so the real economy is declining and worst of all, there is a way to cheat!

  3. Erik is playing Epic in completely differently way than most other players, which makes him discover new opportunities of interacting. Would this be your advice for young readers? To be courageous and try new ways, to go against the tide, without being afraid to look stupid? I think, it's very unusual for a young boy to choose a female figure in a game.

    Definitely. Just because very many people accept certain ideas and ways of doing something does not necessarily mean that their approach is the best way. I think a lot of developments in science and art have come from new ways of looking at problems. I like the character of Erik for several reasons, but this is probably the main one, that he is not afraid of trying something new, in fact he only enjoys Epic when experimenting with it.

    A certain amount of research has been done on males playing female roles in online games and it seems that about 20 percent of males try female characters. One of the interesting features of the online game medium is that you can do this, and it is interesting to see how people react to you differently, depending on your gender.


  4. What will happen after the destruction of Epic? The game was, in a perverted way, stabilizing the social structure. Will there be an outburst of anarchy?

    The game prevented violence, but there was still a conflict over resources on New Earth, one that was being resolved in an unjust way. I'm sure that life will now get better for the people, because there will be far more people making an input into how resources are managed and no longer will you need to spend hours and hours 'clipped up'. Of course it will be confusing for them, until they work out a system. But they still have the global communication system to assist them. Also, the new world will have a lot of respect for the ideas of Erik and Injeborn who helped bring about change, and they are basically decent human beings, with positive values. So, although there might be a certain dislocation and of course there will still be arguments, at least the method of resolving problems will be a more democratic one than before. I don't see their society giving up their fundamental belief in non-violence. Not so long as everyone feels they have a voice.

  5. Do you plan a sequel to Epic?

    I have just finished editing Saga, which should be out in Ireland by the end of the year (2006) and internationally soon afterwards. Saga is set in the same universe as Epic, but we meet a very different set of characters, as well as find out what has happened on old Earth. So it is not exactly a sequel, but Cindella does make several important appearances.

  6. Epic goes for a novel of the new genre of 'cyber fiction'. What was your model while writing?

    Naturally, given the times we live in, a lot of fantasy authors are dealing with the interaction between 'virtual' realities and our physical universe. But I feel my own ideas on the subject were influenced more by thinking about the changes being introduced in our society by massively supported online games than books. Having posed the question: what would it be like to live in a world where your performance in a virtual fantasy environment determined everything? I drew on political philosophy, such as that of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Marx to make the dynamics of such a world as believable as possible. You might notice characters in Epic trying to make sense of the world from these different perspectives. When it comes to written works I would say that Greg Egan is the writer I admire most with regard to this genre. William Gibson is often seen as the founder of the related genre 'cyber punk' and I enjoyed his works also, although they are much darker than Epic.

  7. Do you like playing computer-games? Or do you prefer reading books?

    I very much enjoy computer games. My favourites tend to be online games, but I can be drawn into spending hours on strategy games. My nephew gets me to play fast moving football and racing games, and I find that these are also terrific fun. But reading is a much more significant activity for me. Even forgetting about the value of reading in communicating knowledge (and I read as much non-fiction as fiction) the impact of reading can be profound. To really empathise with other people, to be 'inside' them, you have to read. No game or film can yet recreate that sensation. Moreover the number of possible universes available to you when you engage with text is infinite. Games are more limited in this regard, allowing you to play only in their own particular universe. Your imagination, which is such an integral part of your personality and your happiness, is far less involved in a game than a book. Fortunately, we don't have to choose between games or books, but can have both.

  8. You are the designer of the first fantasy role playing game. What's the name of this game?

    This question needs to be rephrased a little. I was a designer for the world's first live fantasy role-playing game. The name of the game was 'Treasure Trap.' It was based at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England. People came to the castle, to dress up in fantasy costumes and take part in adventures. I was only 19 at the time but I was lucky enough to have been recruited to the venture from a nearby town, Chester, when the organisers visited the local games club. My time at Treasure Trap was enormous fun, and while I made a modest contribution to the development of the rules, my main job was that of designing adventures. My planning involved having to make the best use of luminous costumes for skeletons, giant polystyrene boulders, explosions, smoke, and all the other effects, as well as the placement of monsters and characters played by staff or volunteers. Sadly Treasure Trap was ahead of its time and despite attracting very loyal members, it was not a financial success. The rules we developed there have evolved though and survive in modern 'Live Action Role Playing' (LARP) groups.

  9. You teach medieval history at Trinity College Dublin. What do your colleagues say to your book?

    My colleagues have been tremendously supportive of Epic. It's strange to have such scholars, with their precise attention to historical sources, express enthusiastic praise for a work of the imagination. But I think even the most rigorous historian appreciates time off from research and not only have my colleagues enjoyed the book but so too have their children or relatives.

    As a whole the Department is happy with the success of Epic and the fact that it is winning awards and critical praise internationally. You never know, perhaps prospective students are more aware of the Department of Medieval History in Trinity College because of the book, even though it really has no bearing on the subjects I teach.


  10. Do you have children?

    I do not. I do, however, have a nephew, also called Conor and a niece, Juno. At the time of writing this answer they are 7 and 4. I've written several stories for them, although Epic, of course, is for older children. Conor has passed the stage where I need to hold back in games to make them fair, and for most racing or football games it is me who now needs extra assistance. With regard to games, Juno has shown a great aptitude for draughts. Soon I shall try to teach her chess. It's about time the world chess champion was female!

Creina Mansfield talks to us about manicure sets, Alexander Dumas, topiary trees and her naughty little sister.

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Creina Mansfield
Location:  N/A

The question Creina is most often asked by her readers is:

Where do you get your ideas from?

She answers:

The idea for Snip! Snip! began a long time ago. When I was ten years old I was given a manicure set. I was delighted. It was such a grown-up present and it was a rather special manicure set: it was a brush and it had the words Bon Voyage on it. This means 'have a good journey'. I loved the idea that I was a traveller the sort that would have a manicure set especially for my travels. In reality, I never went far -- except in my imagination. Then, my favourite location was France during the reign of Louis XIV. I loved the writings of Alexander Dumas.

I was greatly upset when, having read all the books he had written, I made enquiries and discovered that he was dead and thus unable to write any more books for me. Back to the manicure set. There was a zip round the brush, and inside was a pair of nail scissors and a collection of little tools for maintaining nails in an impressively grown-up fashion. But I never got a chance, because my little sister got her paws on it, opened it up and used the scissors to cut every bristle off the brush! The poor bald brush made Bon Voyage a mockery. I threw the manicure set away.

So there are two of the great disappointments of my life: not enough Musketeer books and no manicure set. Then, forty years later and somewhat recovered from these two shocks, I was driving along a main road in Ireland when I saw some marvellous topiary trees grown around a garden wall. It takes a lot of skill and patience to create these topiaries, and these also showed a sense of humour. I particularly liked a leafy figure sitting on the wall pointing into the distance. I started wondering who would grow such plants, and so imagined Grandpa -- a character full of fun, skill and mischief. With this added to the ideas of my naughty sister and the topiary trees, I had all the ingredients for Snip! Snip!

So, to sum up, ideas for writing come from: memories, observation and thinking. Most of all they come from reading, which feeds the imagination. When I returned the last of Alexander Dumas’s books to the library, I left a piece of paper inside. On it was written my Farewell to the Four Musketeers. I hope somebody somewhere believes in my characters as much as that …

One of Judi Curtin's biggest fans gets an opportunity to quiz her favourite author ...

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Judi Curtin
Location:  N/A

Ciara McGivern (age 9), one of Judi Curtin's biggest fans, gets to ask her favourite author a few questions ...

1.What gave you the idea to write these books?
When I was a child, my family moved around a lot, and I went to three different primary schools. Because of this experience, I wanted to write about best friends who had to cope with living far away from each other.

2.Was there any particular reason that you picked the names Alice and Megan?
I like both of those names, but I don’t know anyone who has those names, so I could write away without being accused of putting real people into my books.

3.How long did it take you to write one book?
A first draft takes two or three months, but there’s lots of editing to be done after that.

4.Are you planning to do more books?
Yes. I love writing, and I’m working on a few ideas at the moment.

5.When did you start writing the books?
I started the first Alice book about four or five years ago.

6.Is it just you who writes the books, or do people help you write them?
I write them myself, but my daughters, Annie and Ellen often give me ideas, or help me out when I get stuck on something.

7.When you were a little girl did you have a best friend like Megan?
Not really. I think she’s made up of a mixture of girls I used to know.

8.What age were you when you started writing the books?
I forget..

9.Are you going to do a book that has Rosie older?
I’ve thought about doing that, but I don’t have any immediate plans.

10.Did someone else inspire you to write the books or did you come up with it yourself?
As a teacher and a mother, I often read aloud to children, and after years of this I suddenly thought ' I could do that'. And so I did.


Review of The Secret of Kells

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Tomm Moore
Location:  N/A

"I loved it! The pictures were great. I especially liked Ashling, she was very interesting because she was more a rough and tumble kind of girl who thought that dolls were boring, a bit like me. It was really fun reading it. I would say that every 7 or 8 year old girl should read it. Here is my picture of Ashling."

Hannah, aged 8 on www.giftedkids.ie



Reader's review

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Joe O'Brien
Location:  N/A

"This book was excellent. It's telling you never to trust anyone or anything especially if something is free. There wasn't ever a dull moment in the story. It's about a guy called Monty and Monty owns lots and lots of monkeys so he decides to make up a circus full of monkeys. He visits a little village and tells everyone that there was going to be a circus show the following day and if they signed the back of the vouchers he had given out admission would be free. But that night when everyone from the village was at the circus Monty and some of his monkeys sneaked out and robbed all the houses. Fortunately Alfie and his friend Fitzer left the show early and saw him. Want to know the rest? Well, just buy the book. You won't regret it."

Síobhra, aged 10 on www.giftedkids.ie

Writing for Children about the Holocaust

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

I was a ‘war baby’ – one of a generation born in Britain during the Second World War, who, however young, were stamped for life with vivid and frightening memories – air raid sirens, running to the shelter, and the unforgettable threatening sound of bombers, and later of low-flying lethal V1 and V2 rockets (the first pilotless missiles used in modern warfare.)

But growing up in London and learning what was then the very recent history of the Second World War and the Holocaust, I realised how lucky I had been, sheltered from far more horrific events. But for an accident of geography, my sister and I would have been among the one and a half million Jewish children who died at the hands of Nazis and Fascists – of hunger and disease in the ghettoes, the box-cars, the concentration camps, and the gas chambers.

Beneath the surface, I think I was always aware of this aspect of my Jewish heritage. Later, as a school librarian and a writer for young people in Ireland, I aimed to attract young readers with stories set in Ireland to which they could relate, and to entice reluctant readers into the pleasures of reading.

But when I learned that Jewish refugee children escaping the Nazis on a Kindertransport had found a haven on Millisle Farm in Northern Ireland, I realised that I could, in a historical novel based closely on fact, try to communicate to young Irish readers something of the dreadful end to which anti-Semitism and racism could lead.

In Faraway Home I tried to engage young Irish readers emotionally, conveying how it felt to live in fear and danger, to be uprooted, separated from family and everything familiar. But I also wanted to show that despite the homesickness and anxiety of the refugee children, they did learn, with the help of others, to make a new life in which there was even room for humour and fun.

17 Martin Street is set in the same period - the ‘Emergency’ – in neutral Dublin. Portobello, known as ‘Little Jerusalem’ - the network of narrow streets near the Grand Canal, was where Jews and Christians lived as neighbours. I spoke to many members of both communities who had vivid and mostly affectionate memories of the colourful vibrant life in and around that area – the appetising food smells, the football and skipping games in the street, the small job of being a ‘Shabbos goy’ (lighting the fire, a task forbidden for orthodox Jews on the Sabbath) – and much more, against a backdrop of hard times, unemployment and wage cuts, and the scourge of TB, rife at the time.

In the story, rumours spread of a German-Jewish girl refugee ‘on the run’ from Irish immigration authorities. Her story is loosely based on recollections, recounted to me and others by the woman herself, years later. I wanted to show readers how the concern of the Martin Street children, both Jewish and Christian, and the decency and kindness of ordinary Irish citizens could help the refugee, Renata, despite the strict government policy of non-admission of Jewish wartime refugees.

The shadow of the Holocaust is evoked also through the fate of members of the girl’s family who fled Nazi Germany only to end up in the notorious Warsaw Ghetto. A brief reference to the Ghetto uprising shows readers that there were, despite impossible odds, courageous attempts at resistance, an aspect of the Holocaust that should also be known and remembered.

In 17 Martin Street too, there is sadness, loss and fear, but also fun and joy and as in Faraway Home, the healing power of friendship between young people from different religions and backgrounds that can transcend the barriers of religion and culture, and give cause for hope even in the midst of the horrors of war.

Review of 17 Martin Street by Robert Nestor, Greenhills College, Dublin

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

17 Martin Street is an enjoyable historical novel written by Marilyn Taylor for teenagers. It is set around Martin Street close to the South Circular Road, an area where large numbers of the Jewish community lived.

Marilyn sets the novel during the Second World War. This was a very difficult time for Jewish people. And even though Ireland was neutral during the war, Dublin was bombed and people experienced hardship as a result of the war.

The main characters in the novel are Ben, the boy whom the story is based around; Hetty the Jewish girl who moved into the house beside Ben; Eddie, Hetty’s cousin whose house was bombed; Ben’s dad Stephen who doesn’t like Jewish people, refugees, and foreigners; granny who lives with Ben and his Dad; Mam who is very sick during the story; Renata, a refugee girl hiding somewhere in Dublin; Uncle Matt, Ben’s uncle, a trade union member who shows a lot of understanding towards Renata; Sean, Ben’s brother who attempts to report Renata but Uncle Matt steps in and stops him; Zaida, Hetty’s granddad, who when Ben breaks a window with a football, pays for it and then gives Ben a job to pay off the money for it.

This novel has a very interesting plot. It includes Ben saving two drowning puppies; Ben goes to see a Rovers match and doesn’t have enough money but fortunately meets Hetty’s cousin Eddie and they go see it together; Eddie’s house is bombed; Ben, Hetty and Eddie try to save a refugee girl called Renata.

My favourite part is when Ben breaks the window while playing football. I would like to think that if that ever happened to me and I broke the window someone would be nice enough to help me pay off the debt.

This book gives us the message that racism is bad and even if you know someone who is a different religion or has different interests to you, you can still be friends. My favourite description in the book is when Hetty and Mabel describe the matza crackers. The book is very easy to understand. I’d say people nine and up could read it.

However there was one particular moment in the story that I didn’t enjoy and that was when the bombs were dropped and destroyed the houses. I didn’t like this part because it was just sad to think what it would be like to have your house blown up and all your possessions destroyed.

My favourite character in the novel is Mossy the puppy. I like Mossy because he’s a puppy and he was saved from drowning by Ben. He is also energetic. The novel has a fairly good ending. For a time you expect the ending, but then there’s a twist and it changes, but then by some strange means it goes back to the way you would expect it to end.

The novel will appeal to teenagers and adults with an interest in teenage novels and adventure. I would highly recommend this novel and would award it eight out of ten.

Goldi's Story by Megan Ní Mhathúna

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Marilyn Taylor
Location:  N/A

The family was gathered around the curtained window, their faces scared, hopeless, crumpled and cold. I tried to see what they were looking at but it was too crowded for me to get a view. Cheers came from the street below. Words I didn’t understand were spoken. "Jews out! Victory to the German Reich! SEIG HEIL!" Karl hugged me tightly; his sharp, jagged, bitten fingernails scraped the skin beneath my golden fur. But I didn’t complain because his clouded eyes looked too far away for me to reach him. The humans carried on talking. I heard words like Nazi, Jews and Anschluss! There were lots of times when Karl’s father would huddle around the radio and everyone would be as quiet as a Nile crocodile watching his prey. Weeks passed.

Then, one day, I heard loud bangs, rough noises and shouts. I tried to block that day out of my head. But of what I do remember, Karl’s father was taken away, along with his uncle. Karl’s father came back, but his uncle did not. When he eventually came back, he wasn’t the same. He didn’t scratch behind my ears and he didn’t pass me his uneaten food under the table. But that wasn’t the worst thing that happened to me. It was when... When... Karl and Rosa left. We brought them to the station, their tears silently rolling down their cheeks. When we arrived, before they got on the train, Rosa clutched me tightly, and buried her head in my fur. Then her father handed her a book with me on the cover! Then she left, with Karl. I knew they weren’t coming back. I cried every night.

Fast forward. Back to now. The soldier, the one who had taken me from Karl’s mother and father held me down. My fur stood on end. I shivered. I felt a cold, hard circle on my neck. I twisted me head around. A gun! I barked so loudly. Then I realized. There was no chance he would change his mind. I slumped to the ground. But when he pulled the trigger, I still jolted when it entered my body. Then, I was still.

By Megan Ní Mhathúna, Rang a Sé, Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch, Baile Munn as part of the One Book, One Ballymun project

Reading Club discussion points for Into the Grey

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Celine Kiernan
Location:  N/A

Here are some suggested topic for discussion for reading clubs or groups, written by the author, Celine Kiernan.

  1. All of the main characters in Into The Grey have lost something, or had it taken from them. Chose two characters and detail at least one thing they have lost.
  2. How did they cope with that loss?
  3. By the end of the novel has Pat changed? In what way?
  4. In what way are Pat and Dom different to each other? Has their relationship changed by the end of the book?
  5. Why did Francis not recognize Laurence?
  6. After WW1 Cheryl and James decide to leave Skerries. Why?
  7. What is it that the men in the bar object to about James?
  8. Can you explain why David doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of his family?
  9. In what way is Olive’s family different to David’s?
  10. Pat feels that he must deal with his problems alone. Why? Are there other situations in which teenagers can feel this way?

Reader's review

Posted on the 14th March 2013 by Support
Contributors: Eithne Massey
Location:  N/A

"Okay, O'Brien Press, firstly, I’d like to thank you first for releasing some pretty awesome books, and thanks for letting me review this book fairly early. Now, I understand that The Secret of Kells is a tie-in for an upcoming movie, so I can't wait to see Brendan walking about in all his Cartoon Saloon awesomeness. Now what I think of this book is this. Firstly, I like how it explains about each picture of the Book of Kells. For example Brendan basing St Mark's lion on brother Assoua's description was fairly clever. Secondly, it's an amazing idea to combine Christian and pagan faiths. You know, making a Christian boy monk meet a fairy girl and pitting him against a serpent death god, Crom Cruach. Also putting in the first Irish magnifying glass, Brendan's Eye. To round things off, the illustrations are fantastic as usual."

Sam, aged 11 on www.giftedkids.ie